Monthly Archives: July 2015

A reminder: pre-season results don’t matter

COMMERCE CITY, CO - JULY 29: MLS All Star forward David Villa (7) of the New York City FC celebrates his 2-0 goal with teammate MLS All Star midfielder Kaka (22) of Orlando City SC, who assisted on the play, against the Tottenham Hotspur during the first half. The MLS All-Stars played Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Lads, it’s Tottenham

I’ve been amused by all summer by newspaper website stories on the Telegraph or Daily Mail with headlines like: “5 things we learned from Man Utd’s 2-0 defeat by PSG”.

I always think: “You managed to learn five things from a pre-season friendly?”

We’re so starved of football after the summer, that we’re itching to get back into full-on fan mode — instant over reaction, glorification or rage, sweeping conclusions, “this will be our year” giving way to “here we go again” either side of a silly Nacer Chadli handball.

We are all guilty of it. I went to a preseason match the other night and instantly wrote off one of the teams I was seeing.

But it is particularly acute for Spurs fans at the moment, as we’ve been denied seeing any pre-season matches so far up until last night’s MLS All-Star jamboree in Denver. I haven’t seen the game yet — my cunning plan of watching a replay before the cricket was ruined when it disappeared off the Sky planner for mysterious reasons — but have been amused by some of the reaction.

My favourite was the Standard breaking out full player ratings. For a pre-season match! “The midfield experiment was a failure” it declared of Eric Dier’s new role. Yup, let’s shut this down Poch, maybe stick Fede Fazio in there next match. Forget all the work he has done in the three weeks preceeding, and the basic logic that it may take him a little while to get up to speed.

Pre-season matches are about shaking off the summer rust, experimenting with new roles and tactics, implementing style of play and building on-field relationships. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose.

On this subject, there has been a lot of chuntering from Spurs fans about the preseason schedule, particularly about the Audi Cup on Tuesday and Wednesday. Ben Pearce wrote a very reasonable article for ESPN FC assessing the situation, and raised the question on whether Pochettino was being undermined.

Personally, I don’t see the problem. First, these are pre-season matches, so Spurs can select who they want and how many minutes they get, particularly on Wednesday. They have control over the situation. Second, if a full-strength team plays vs Real Madrid on Tuesday, they have ample time to recover and prepare for Old Trafford on Saturday. Third, Spurs should be used to playing midweek by now given the years in the Europa League. Fourth, tiredness shouldn’t be a factor: if they weren’t playing Madrid, you can be sure Poch would be running high intensity double sessions or full-match simulations on Tuesday and Wednesday to ensure the team was raring to go.

And this is the final reason is why I think the Audi Cup may be actually be a GOOD idea, and why Poch himself may well have signed off on it. Playing on Tuesday night against top quality opposition, Spurs have an opportunity to maximize their match sharpness before Saturday — they could really come flying out of the blocks.

Man Utd have been on a flabby US tour, ending last night vs PSG, and won’t play again until they meet Spurs. Is that really better preparation?

Liverpool vs Spurs: An analysis of divergent transfer strategies

saido harry

So the season starts in 9 days, and as this things stand, Spurs are one Harry Kane hamstring strain away from playing either Nathan Oduwa or Shaq Coulthirst, neither of whom lit up League 2 on loan last season, up top at Old Trafford.

Emmanuel Adebayor is rejoining Tim Sherwood at Aston Villa as I type, and we can all see some comedy occuring there. Roberto Soldado continues to be heavily linked with a move back to Spain, where he may well be right now, as he wasn’t invited to join the MLS junket in Denver.

The transfer of Saido Berahino from the Hawthorns to White Hart Lane, meanwhile, appears to have been sucked into some sort of time vortex, and has now gone into reverse. First the deal was due to be completed in 48 hours, then the clubs were £15 million apart on the fee, then Spurs were preparing to table a bid, and now West Brom have confirmed they’ve heard absolutely nothing. So let’s keep those “Berahino, he’s a yiddo” chants on ice, for the time being.

Sufficed to say, a few Spurs fans, myself included, are starting to get feel a tinge of panic. And it is a familiar panic, as we’ve been here before, many many times.

The striker situation at Spurs got me thinking about other clubs, and in particular Liverpool. If there are two clubs who have gone about their business in completely different ways this summer, it is these two.

Liverpool received praise for “getting deals done early”, but really what that meant was bringing in players early. Actually, they still have rather a lot of work to do on the sales front — their squad, currently, is huge. Spurs have drawn praise for finding value in the transfer market while other clubs go a bit mad and successfully limiting the losses on the Bale money duds, but there are a couple of massive holes that need filling.

As fans, we love to get signings done early. Brendan and Poch, they would surely prefer to have the players in, but a bloated squad can bog down preseason and cause headaches for coaches. However, chairmen/finance directors prefer to balance budgets and avoid risks of being saddled with contracts they can’t shift.

So I wondered, what is the cost of doing it the Liverpool way, namely getting the players in and then figuring out how to sell? Is there really much of a saving by doing things the Spurs way, or is this Daniel Levy pinching pennies at the expense of the preparedness of the squad for the new season?

Inspired by Jose Mourinho, I’ve gotten out my calculator.

First of all, I’m not using any sophisticated accounting analysis. Instead, I’m just considering the cost of having extra players on the payroll.

Second, let’s just look at the strike forces, as this is where the best comparison is to be had. I’ll add the best estimate of their weekly wage that I can find, but in particular for Ings I can’t find any detail at all due to the ongoing tribunal. We’ll put at at 60K — Liverpool pay far bigger wages than Spurs and free transfers like Ings command more anyway. We’ll assume a deal for Berahino will eventually happen, for the sake of argument.

Tottenham
Staying: Harry Kane (35K)
No longer required: Emmanuel Adebayor (100k), Roberto Soldado (80k)
Incoming: Saido Berahino (35K), A.N. Other (?K)

Liverpool
Staying: Daniel Sturridge (150K)
New arrivals: Christian Benteke (140K), Danny Ings (60K), Divock Origi(20K)
No longer required: Rickie Lambert (45K), Fabio Borini (60K), Mario Balotelli (80K).

So, let’s use Ings and Borini as an example, as their wages likely cancel each other out and Ings is the replacement for Borini as a 3rd or 4th choice striker. If Borini had left on July 1, when Ings joined, there would be zero cost. However, for the past 4 weeks, Liverpool have been paying Borini 60K per week — so £240,000 in dead money and counting. In the case of Ings, they couldn’t slow the deal — it had to be done on July 1 when his Burnley contract ended, so there was no possibility of saving wages by delaying his arrival.

The Balotelli situation is similar to Borini — his direct replacement, Christian Benteke, has already been signed and Balotelli remains on the Anfield payroll. It’s been a week so far, so 80K and counting.

Rickie Lambert is perhaps the strangest case as there are loads of clubs interested in him. I can’t see how Liverpool would have planned on having both Ings and Lambert in the squad, especially with Origi back from loan. But he is still there. So, that’s another 45K for four weeks — that’s £180,000 in dead money and counting.

In total, Liverpool’s strategy of getting strikers in before moving on the unwanted players has cost £500,000, and will increase by £185,000 per week until the end of the window. And this is just the strikers, remember. They rival pre-sales Spurs in the deadwood stakes.

What Liverpool are also doing is running the risk of being “stuck” with one of these unwanted players, in particular Balotelli, who appears to have few takers. If he is still there once Jim White has packed up and gone home on September 1, he would have cost £480,000 since Benteke came in six weeks prior. Liverpool would then be on the hook for another 18 weeks until the January window opens. That is £1.44 million. If they can’t get rid of him until next summer, that is £3.52 million. Or to put it another way, ouch.

If they get stuck with Borini, they would have paid him £480,000 during the summer transfer window. For the next 18 weeks while they window is shut, they would be paying a further £1.08 million. Again, ouch.

If they are forced to send either of them out on loan, they will likely be picking up a large portion of the very high wages — I can’t see an Italian club paying either of their wages in full.

Meanwhile, for Spurs, if they really have delayed signing a striker such as Berahino until they’ve unloaded Adebayor’s wages, what is the saving? Let’s say Berahino gets the same wage as Kane, a reported £35,000 per week, and he’d been snapped up on July 1. That would have been an additional £140,000 by July 28. I assume Spurs have been trying their hardest to get Adebayor out of the club from the moment the window opened. Depressingly for Spurs, at 100K per week, he has pocketed £400,000 from the club this summer.

To me, the deal for Berahino should have gone ahead earlier, as it is clear that Adebayor was never going to play for Spurs again. It is similar to the fact Liverpool had no choice but to bring Ings in when they did, and then try and get the best deal for Borini possible.

Roberto Soldado surely remains a serviceable striker, so you can understand why the club wants his salary accounted for before bringing in a replacement. This makes the decision to leave him off the MLS roster curious, to say the least. If we’re paying the guy, let’s at least use him to give Kane a breather.

I appreciate this is a simplistic way of looking at things. There are all sorts of other factors in transfers — opportunity cost, shifting values in what is a very fluid market, injury, player personalities. This is more a device to show the divergent strategies.

But I feel it is instructive as it shows how quickly players wages start to add up, the risk that comes with being stuck with a player you don’t need, and also the fact that, while we are talking big numbers, a few weeks wages is a small percentage of the vast revenues of clubs like Spurs and Liverpool. Liverpool had annual revenue of £256 million at last count, Spurs £181 million.

Liverpool’s owners are prepared to take a risk and spend — that is their perogative. But they are really leaking money at the moment, and that ultimately comes either from funds that could be used better for the team to compete, or at the expense of patience and goodwill from the financial backers.

Spurs are saving to build a new stadium, and must get the most out of every penny if they want to challenge clubs that generate far more money for a place in the Top 4. So you can understand why Daniel Levy keeps a vice-like grip on Spurs spending, and I trust that he knows the transfer market as just about anyone else out there having been engaged in it for many years and having bought and sold around £1 billion in players as Spurs chairman.

However, I really feel, when it comes to signing young players on relatively cheap contracts, the risk of taking on additional wages isn’t huge and shouldn’t deter Spurs from moving relatively early. Now how about getting that bid in for Berahino, finally?

**Update July 30: I’ve corrected a couple of silly errors in the original piece — I’d confused the opening date of the transfer window. The rest of the figures are correct.

The return of Harry Redknapp? Please don’t do it, Bournemouth

Eddie-Howe-Harry-Redknapp-011

No, stop it ‘Arry

I watched Bournemouth’s pre-season visit to the mighty Yeovil Town yesterday, and a fun evening was had by all.

Yeovil are trying to avoid a third consecutive relegation, but look no closer to figuring out how to score goals than they were in the previous two seasons. Bournemouth, meanwhile, were magnificent. It was their second choice midfield and attack, but, throughout the game, they upped and upped and upped the tempo, and it was quite exhilarating. They never put the ball in the air, and never stopped running. Distin looked silky smooth at the back next to Mings. The only player who looked out of place was Christian Atsu, who limped off in the first half — Chelsea may have bought a dud there.

But watching this Bournemouth team, you could see the clear articulation of Howe’s vision of what successful football looks like. Dynamic, exciting, creative, and maximising athletic potential.

However, like all promoted teams, the chances are, Bournemouth will go down. Maybe Callum Wilson scores enough goals to keep them up, but more likely he doesn’t. Harry Arter may have starred in the Championship, but more likely he gets bogged down at Premier League level. Either way, Bournemouth are going to be in a fight to avoid the drop, and at some stage of the season will flirt with the relegation zone.

Enter the most depressing and predictable event that will happen this season. The Bournemouth ownership become concerned that they may go down, missing out on another £50 million in TV money and being stuck with some expensive Premier League contracts. The Proper Football Men get on TV and say, while they admire Eddie Howe, he lacks experience at this level. And in the background, one Harry Redknapp emerges from his home in Sandbanks, addresses the TV cameras, and says he knee feels terrific. “Eddie’s done a brilliant job,” says ‘Arry, before noting that he’s managed in the Premier League for 20 years and never been relegated. Eddie Howe feels the pressure, the team tightens up, the dynamic football suffers, the results get worse, and enter ‘Arry as Bournemouth’s saviour.

Please Bournemouth, show you are better than most Premier League clubs, and stick with Eddie Howe through thick and thin this season. No manager could have done more with your club to get it to the Premier League, and there is no one better equipped to keep you in the league. Not even ‘Arry.

Nabil Bentaleb: Tottenham’s next superstar

nabil

Last season, us Spurs fans revelled in the extraordinary transformation of Harry Kane into a mega star. As the new season nears, I believe another of our young core, Nabil Bentaleb, could be about to hit superstar status.

Looking back now, Kane’s development was as rapid as it was unexpected. Be honest now, how many of you will admit that you were worried at the start of last season over the prospect of Kane as the third choice striker in case either Roberto Soldado or Emmanuel Adebayor got injured?

Kane’s rise lit up what was otherwise a solid but unspectacular season. The jury is still out on whether Kane can repeat the trick, but personally I don’t think it was a fluke. Simply, I don’t think you can fluke a 30-goal season.

So dramatic was the Kane story, however, I wonder if it overshadowed another monumental event that took place through the course of last season, namely Bentaleb’s rapid growth.

A midfielder’s development is never going to be as sudden as that of a striker as there isn’t one single measure to gauge success like you can a striker with goals. But Bentaleb’s journey, in less than 18 months, from remote prospect to lynchpin at a Top 5 club, is pretty astounding in its own way and has few rivals in the English game at the moment.

I’ve been trying to think of recent comparisons. Jack Wilshire? He started with a bang but never really kicked on and has been slowed by injuries. Aaron Ramsey? Not as quick, and his breakout season was about goals anyway. I can’t think of any development of central midfielders at the Manchester clubs, Liverpool or Chelsea. Everton have Ross Barkley, but he is an attacking midfielder really, while Jack Rodwell is more typical of the path that young midfielders take – promise, a big transfer, lack of fulfilment, a move to Sunderland. My point is, what is happening with Bentaleb is RARE.

In his first half-season, Bentaleb proved that he had talent. Last season, he proved that he belonged as a Premier League midfielder. This season, my belief is that Bentaleb will prove that he has the potential to be a world-class midfielder.

Now, at this point any self-respecting blogger in 2015 would crack open the player radars and undertake a deep dive of the advanced stats to prove that Bentaleb is indeed the bastard child of Yaya Toure and Andrea Pirlo. I love the work of Spurs supporting stats guys like Michael Caley at CFC, James Yorke at Statsbomb and the people at Spurs Statsman, but sadly I don’t know where to even look for advanced stats, let alone gather them and draw any meaningful conclusions.

So, until I up my game, I’m stuck with the cognitive dissonance of old-style, say-what-you-see assessment of a player, and trying to sculpt the potentially conflicting conclusions into what is in all probability a subconsciously preconceived narrative. But for Bentaleb, and where Spurs sit at the moment with a young team and a manager like Mauricio Pochettino, I actually feel there is something to be gleaned from what can sometimes be dismissed as the “intangibles”.

I remember watching Bentaleb’s debut against Southampton, and the collective “Who?” from all Spurs fans bar Windy as he came off the bench with 40 minutes left to replace Mousa Dembele. But in the game, it was immediately apparent that he had something. His passing was very efficient and I don’t think he gave the ball away once. He seemed big and athletic, a real man, not scrawny like many prospects when they first appear. He appeared very calm, and didn’t shy away from involvement.

Bentaleb’s route into the Spurs first team is instructive. Unlike many coddled young wonderkids who populate academies, Bentaleb had to overcome rejection by his hometown club, Lille, before wandering to Mouscron in Belgium and then Tottenham in search of a place on the football ladder. Ask the likes of Alan Shearer what rejection at a pivotal age did for them: it can fuel a fire that burns for a whole career. Bentaleb himself has talked about the pleasure in gaining revenge.

Tim Sherwood’s repeated attempts to get credit for the emergence of Harry Kane have been extremely embarrassing, but no-one would begrudge Sherwood taking the credit for giving Bentaleb his chance. Ironically, the notion that Bentaleb was a Sherwood pet and consequent coldness from the White Hart Lane crowd became another thing that Bentaleb has had to overcome.

Bentaleb is, by every account, a beast in training. With typical hyperbole, Sherwood described Bentaleb as “training like every day was the last day of his life”, but this has been born out in every report and ITK account of how things play out at Hotspur Way on a daily basis. Reports that Deli Alli is going toe-to-toe with Bentaleb in the training stakes are hugely encouraging.

So why does this training attitude matter so much? It’s because in Pochettino, Spurs have a head coach who values training performance more highly that anything. Train well, and you will get the opportunities to play well. Bar Harry Kane, no-one has exemplified this simple philosophy more than Bentaleb.

In the quest to be just a little less Spursy, we need guys like Bentaleb

One of the joys of being a football fan in 2015 is being able to use social media to get access to players. Most players are, sensibly, conservative in what they put on Twitter, but even in limited interactions you get a glimpse of their personality. Harry Kane comes across as level-headed, polite but ambitious, even as his world has utterly transformed in the past 12 months. Ryan Mason appears to be a bit of a football obsessive — he was the one Spurs player tweeting about the Women’s World Cup, for example. Eric Dier comes across as wry and intelligent.

However, Bentaleb is my favourite Spurs tweeter — after every game, he does his #SoldiersNeverSurrender bit, and you can just feel that hunger for revenge bubbling away. In the quest to be just a little less Spursy, we need guys like Bentaleb.

This may be sorely overanalysing just a few tweets, I accept. But in sport, character matters — and in talent identification, character is both one the most important factors, and one of the hardest to assess.

I thought one of the most instructive games last season was the miserable defeat away to Manchester United. It was a dreadful showing — Pochettino was terribly slow to react to Louis van Gaal’s use of Fellaini, leaving Kyle Walker, Ryan Mason and Eric Dier horribly exposed. In this game, Bentaleb contributed to the mess by giving the ball away for a simple goal.

However, once Pochettino belatedly switched Bentaleb onto Fellaini, Spurs improved markedly. The game may have been all over, but still Spurs’ performance in the second half wasn’t too bad. They competed, they stuck at it, and avoided embarrassment. I was disappointed in getting so soundly beaten, and frustrated by Pochettino’s slow reaction, but overall philosophical — inevitably, with a young team, you are going to get matches like this.

The fact that Spurs recovered their poise in the second half, and that Bentaleb managed to draw the sting of a rampant Fellaini, I feel taught us more about the team and Bentaleb long-term than a bad 45 minutes did. Add this character to Bentaleb’s other assets — efficient passing, good ball retention, top-class athleticism and a wand of a left foot — and even an untrained eye such as mine can see that Spurs have something truly special to work with.

Going into the new season, Bentaleb is now the key man in the midfield. We await eagerly a further recruit to the Spurs midfield — but it is clear they are being signed to play with Bentaleb. Last season he had to prove to a new manager that he was a serious player and not just some political pawn in the game between Sherwood and Levy. Bentaleb saw off Capoue and Paulinho, again, and also Stambouli. This season, the path is clear: it’s now about proving not just that he belongs, but that he belongs at the top table.

Of course, as Bentaleb rises up in the footballing world, there may be issues ahead. He’s already been linked, albeit v loosely, with PSG and Barcelona. His contract negotiation felt prolonged and spilled into the public domain. We shouldn’t forget that, while he has come through the academy, he doesn’t have the same connection with the club as the likes of Kane and has seen how cold the world of football can be.

But with his new contract now signed and his status as one of the main men at Spurs, I feel confident in predicting that Bentaleb is going to have a huge season ahead, and us Spurs fans can revel in the glow of not one, but two, budding superstars.

No Exit: A dramatic re-imagining of Tottenham’s summer transfer window

hugo_gym

No Exit

A one-act play.

Starring Hugo Lloris and Daniel Levy.

HUGO (enters, accompanied by the chairman, DANIEL, and glances around him): So here we are?

DANIEL: Yes, Mr. Lloris.

HUGO: And this is what it looks like?

DANIEL: Yes.

[HUGO observes a large room filled with high-tech fitness equipment emblazoned with logos of a cockerel on a football. It appears to be part of a newly built training facility off the M25 in North London, but it is unclear how HUGO knows that]

HUGO: Really?. ..Yes, yes, I dare say. ..Still I certainly didn’t expect — this! You know what they tell us up there, in the media briefing room?

DANIEL: What about?

HUGO: About.. .this- er… residence.

DANIEL: Really, sir, how could you believe such cock-and-bull stories? Told by people who’d never set foot here. For, of course, if they had—

HUGO: Quite so. But I say, where are the instruments of torture?

DANIEL: The what?

HUGO: The racks and red-hot pincers and all the other paraphernalia?

DANIEL: Ah, you must have your little joke, Mr. Lloris.

[HUGO continues to examine the room. It is a curious room. Just gym equipment with the logos, and nothing else. Barren, especially as he must spend the entire summer transfer window here. No comforts at all.]

HUGO: So that’s that; no toothbrush. And no trophies, either. One never qualifies for the Champions League, I take it?

DANIEL: That’s so.

HUGO: Just as I expected. Why should one try to qualify? On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, a sort of drowsiness steals on you, tickles behind the ears, and you feel your eyes closing. Maybe Thursdays in the Europa League are actually better. Miles and miles away. Rub your eyes, get up, and it starts all over again.

DANIEL: Romantic, that’s what you are. You shouldn’t have hinted in The Guardian that you wanted to move to a bigger club. You forced me to lock you in this room all summer and break your wrist.

HUGO: Will you keep quiet, please! …I won’t make a scene, I shan’t be sorry for myself, I’ll face the situation, face it fairly and squarely. I won’t have it springing at me from behind, before I’ve time to size it up, liked a Kyle Walker back pass. And you call that being “romantic!”

[Hugo paces the room, searching for an exit, a light switch or a window. But there is none.]

HUGO: I used to have dreams. Happy little dreams. There was a green field. Just an ordinary field, with a 76,000 capacity stadium around it and a statue of an angry Scotsman outside. Old Trafford I called it. I dreamed that I played there. By the way, is it daytime now?

DANIEL: Can’t you see? The floodlights are on.

HUGO: Ah, yes, I’ve got it. It’s your daytime. And outside?

DANIEL: Outside?

HUGO: Damn it, you know what I mean. Beyond that wall.

DANIEL: There’s a passage.

HUGO: And at the end of the passage?

DANIEL: There’s more rooms, more passages, and stairs.

HUGO: And what lies beyond them?

DANIEL: Real Madrid. Manchester United. PSG. But not for you, Mr. Lloris. For you, this is all.

[HUGO is by himself. He goes to a piece of equipment with the cockerel logo and strokes it reflectively. He sits down; then gets up, locates a bell-push, and presses the button. It remains silent. He tries two or three times, without success. Then he tries to open the door, also without success. He calls DANIEL several times, but gets no result. He beats the door with his fists, still calling. Suddenly he grows calm and sits down again. At the same moment the door opens and HARRY enters, followed by the chairman, DANIEL.]

DANIEL: Did you call, Mr. Lloris?

HUGO: (About to answer “yes”, but sees HARRY and says) No.

DANIEL: This is your room for the summer, Mr. Kane. If there’s any information you require—? Most of our players have quite a lot to ask me. But I won’t insist. Anyhow, this gentleman can tell you anything you want to know as well as I could. We’ve had a little chat, him and me.
(Exits.)

HARRY: Where’s Ryan? Didn’t you hear? I asked you about Ryan. Where is he?

HUGO: I haven’t an idea.

HARRY: Ah, that’s the way it works, is it? Torture by separation. Well, as far as I’m concerned, you won’t get anywhere. Ryan constantly gave away the ball and failed to track runners from deep, and I shan’t miss him in the least.

HUGO: I beg your pardon. Who do you suppose I am?

HARRY: You? Why, the captain, of course.

HUGO: Well, that’s a good one! Too comic for words. I the captain! So you came in, had a look at me, and thought I was— er— one of the staff. Of course, it’s that silly fellow’s fault; he should have introduced us. A captain indeed! I’m Hugo Lloris, goalkeeper and man of culture by profession. And we’re both in the same boat, so to speak…

[An awkward pause]

HUGO: Right. Well, now that we’ve broken the ice, do you really think I look like a captain? And, by the way, how does one recognize captains when one sees them? Evidently you’ve ideas on the subject.

HARRY: They look frightened of being sold to Sunderland or Aston Villa.

HUGO: Frightened of being sold? But how ridiculous! Of whom should they be frightened?

HARRY: Laugh away, but I know what I’m talking about. I came up through the youth academy and have been at the club for 10 years. Sunderland or Aston Villa. Or Hull.

HUGO: Sunderland? Aston Villa? Hull? How beastly of them! They’ve removed everything in the least resembling a cosmopolitan European capital where I would like to go. Anyhow, I can assure you I’m not frightened. Not that I take my position lightly; I realize its gravity only too well. But I’m not afraid.

HARRY: That’s your affair. Must you be here all the time, or do you head outside for a kick about, now and then?

HUGO: The door’s locked. They don’t want any opposition scouts or analysts seeing us, especially with the new social media team all over the place.

HARRY: Oh!.. That’s too bad.

HUGO: I can quite understand that it bores you having me here. And I too— well, quite frankly, I’d rather be alone, if I can’t get a move to Manchester United or PSG. But I’m sure we’ll manage to pull along together somehow. I’m no talker, I don’t even have a Twitter or Facebook page.

HARRY: Your mouth!

HUGO: I beg your pardon.

HARRY: Can’t you keep your mouth still? You keep twisting it about all the time. It’s grotesque.

HUGO: So sorry. I wasn’t aware of it. It’s not grotesque, it’s just normal for a mouth to move up and down, it is you who has a strange mouth as you seem unable to close it.

HARRY: That’s just what I reproach you with. There you are! You talk about politeness, and you don’t even try to control your face. Remember you’re not alone; you’ve no right to inflict the sight of your fear on me.

HUGO: How about you? Aren’t you afraid you won’t get your move to a Champions League club?

HARRY: What would be the use? There was some point in being afraid before, but I figure if I bang in another 30 goals this season it’s the Bernabeu here I come.

HUGO: We haven’t yet begun to suffer.

HARRY: Well? What’s going to happen?

HUGO: I don’t know. I’m waiting until the transfer window closes. It’s 6pm this season. I have no idea how Jim White is going to handle that.

(Enter JAN with the chairman, DANIEL. He looks at HUGO whose face is hidden by his hands.)

JAN: No. Don’t look up. I know what you’re hiding with your hands. I know you have no face left. What! But I don’t know you!

HUGO: I’m not the captain, sir.

JAN: I never thought you were. Kaboul and Adebayor were chosen instead or me, not that I am bitter about it. Is anyone else coming?

DANIEL: No, sir. No one else is coming. I thought about sending in CHRISTIAN but this play only has four characters and surprisingly we’ve not had any serious interest in him this summer.

JAN: Oh! Then we’re to stay by ourselves, the three of us, this goalkeeper, this promising striker and myself, a world-class centre back. (They all laugh.)

HUGO: There’s really nothing to laugh about. We’re here all bloody summer, and that chairman has just broken my wrist so watch out for your ankles.

[The chairman, DANIEL, exits, and the doors shut on a move out of the room for all three of them, permanently]

JAN: Oh, well, the great thing is to keep as cheerful as we can, don’t you agree? Of course, you, too, were—

HARRY: Yes. Last month. Manchester United leaked to the papers that I was their number one target and were prepared to pay £40 million, and since then I’ve consistently appeared on websites and newspaper columns as a possible “mystery” striker signing. Ironically, I’d actually rather stay for another year. But nobody seems to believe footballers when they say that, for some reason. What about you?

JAN: I’m— quite recent. Or not. You see my contract may be running out, despite the club claiming that there is a two-year extension clause. I was hoping to move to Barcelona, but they signed Thomas Vermaelen and then got banned from buying any more players.

HARRY: Did you suffer much?

JAN: No. I was only half conscious most of last season, but so was Federico Fazio and we shipped a ton of goals.

[JAN looks at HUGO]

JAN: And you, Mr. Lloris?

HUGO: My agent leaked to The Guardian in April that I would like to move to a Champions League club, particularly as David de Gea looked as if he was leaving Manchester United. I am the captain of France and one of the best goalkeepers in the world. The French press have never forgiven Spurs for benching me when I joined to play Brad Friedel instead, and have consistently stirred up transfer rumours. I knew Spurs would drive a hard bargain, but this….this state of things, I didn’t expect.

[The summer months pass. Just HUGO, HARRY and JAN, locked in the large room filled with high-tech fitness equipment emblazoned with logos of a cockerel on a football. May turns into June. June turns into July. July turns into August. HUGO and JAN become close. HARRY’s youthful enthusiasm grates. Meanwhile DANIEL, the chairman, is nowhere to be seen.)

HUGO: I’m looking at this thing, the newspaper, and I understand that I’m a Spurs player forever. I tell you everything’s been thought out beforehand. They knew when I signed that new deal, I’d be too expensive and there was a glut of good goalkeepers on the market. So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is the summer transfer window as a Spurs star wanting Champions League football.

JAN: Hugo! Please-

HUGO: No, let me be. Harry is the problem. We both cannot move to Manchester United when they are after him, as they don’t have enough money while the Glazers still control the club.

JAN: Right! In that case, I’ll stop him moving. (JAN picks up a replica Turfie and smashes HARRY with it several times.)

HARRY: But, you crazy creature, what do you think you’re doing? You know quite well I’m staying at Spurs.

JAN: Staying?

HARRY: Staying! Staying! Staying! Manchester United, Real Madrid, PSG- useless. Do you understand? Once and for all. So here we are, forever.

JAN: At Spurs. Forever. My God, how funny! Can I have a new double-my-money contract then? Forever.

HUGO: For ever, and ever, and ever.

(A long silence.)

FIN

The original can be, erm, found here

Sensible Spurs make me miss the transfer windows of old

So far, so sensible for Tottenham 2.0. We’ve gotten the defence in place for the start of pre-season, have steadily gotten rid of the deadwood for good sums of money, and, if the current paper of record is reporting accurately, are now about to embark on another round of purchases.

Meanwhile, barely a whisper of any rumblings or gossip is emerging from the club. There has been no moaning from the half-dozen or so players who are kicking around waiting for their move away from Hotspur Way, which is particularly remarkable in this age of social media. There has been no apparent agenda setting from factions within the club on transfers or general direction of travel. There has also been zero talk about any doubts surrounding Mauricio Pochettino’s management. Think about that: zero. This is Tottenham, a club with a history of, how shall I put it, changing its mind on managers more than any other in the Premier League.

On the transfer front, it’s a click bait desert. Most of the rumours focused on outgoing business, with the occasional reiteration of previously stated targets, such as Messrs McCarthy and N’Jie. The club’s new pro-banter social media team is trying it’s best, such as the fun it was having yesterday with the green screen, but when your main summer feature is Jesus Perez’s pre-season diary, there’s only so much you can do.

Sure, it’s a sporting void this week in the UK. My viewing choice last night was a rerun of the Man City-Roma friendly, matchplay darts, or Pittsburgh Pirates v Kansas City Royals in Major League Baseball. It’s a bleak time, and I want to keep things in perspective. It’s always darkest before dawn.

But I have to say this: I’m bored.

Very, very, very bored.

There is barely anything in the football columns about Spurs, and it’s been that way all summer bar the one day when we signed Toby Alderweireld and unveiled the new stadium.

Meanwhile, Man Utd and Arsenal are eyeing up mystery strikers, Man City are sweeping up any English talent available, Chelsea are pissing Everton off royally and Liverpool are doing a Spurs again by selling their star winger and spanking a ton of cash on players who won’t be quite so good. Crystal Palace have signed Yohan bloody Cabaye, Stoke tried to get Xherdan Shaqiri and even Newcastle are getting some players in and featuring prominently in the gossip columns.

It never used to be like this. Spurs were the leakiest ship about, a constant source of amusement in the quiet summer months. There would be fiascos like Willian’s medical, an endless stream of almost-but-never-quite deals for stars like Hazard, Mata and Suarez, the unearthing of wonder kids and endless traffic of reserve players to clubs like Hull for massive fees to fund the whole quixotic misadventure.

This summer, I think we’ve got more chance of Daniel Levy showing the world the basement he’s been keeping Hugo in all summer than Poch winding down his car window and chatting with a Sky Sports News reporter about transfer targets.

The journos are struggling, there is no doubt about that, as Greg Stobart of Goal, previously a must-follow for Spurs fans who has now been transferred to Man United (I’d like to think with a new four-year, double-your-money contract), summed up.

The regulars are quiet in the extreme. David Hytner of the Guardian has barely written a word on Spurs since his piece about Hugo wanting out. Is he on the naughty step? Darren Lewis of the Mirror has been almost silent, barely churning out any rumours. I fear he, more than any, has suffered in the absence of Harry and Tactics Tim. Gary Jacob of the Times has had a nice couple of lines on the stadium, but with the paper now hiding itself so deeply behind its paywall, its reporting is a bit of an irrelevance to Spurs fans who prefer social media and Reddit. Even the Mail, in its desperate search for clicks, has really been very thin on the Spurs front.

So, for Spurs fans, we’ve been reduced to waiting for stories from the chosen ones, Jason Burt or Matt Law from the Telegraph. There haven’t been many stories, so no danger of exceeding the 10 free reads a month, but when they have come, they’ve been packed full of info at least.

I know, it’s only a week until we’re all off to Denver, or in my case to the part of the house with the strongest wifi so I can watch the MLS All-Star game on Spurs TV. But boy is it going to be a long week.

Just a little leg, that’s all I want. One crazy rumour, one mega grumble, one tantalizing tidbit that can get the juices flowing, and me scribbling down potential lineups on a piece of paper when I should be doing something more constructive.

Last summer had what, in my view, was the almost perfect rumour: Antoine Griezmann. He would have been a great fit off Roberto Soldado or Adebayor (yup, it was the now-forgotten pre-Kane era), he had a reasonable release clause, and none of the big clubs were that interested in him. He looked like the sort of mega fun player who has periodically fallen to Spurs. Of course, he went to Atletico instead and may now well be on his way to Chelsea, but boy was it good for a few days.

This year, we haven’t had that sort of tantalizing, dream-making rumour. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been floated about a couple of times, but it’s just not quite on the level of Griezmann. He’s not as good, for starters, and in all likelihood won’t give up Champions League football at Dortmund*. It’s just so sensible with the likes of Clinton N’Jie or Timo Werner being linked — where are the stories about Tottenham thinking they’ve got a chance at landing Alexandre Lacazette, or a more high profile German wunderkind like Julian Draxler? At this point, I’m not sure I care if the journos just plain fabricate it — I’m starved of sensational rumours.

Like many Spurs fans, 99 percent of the time I’m happy with the direction the club is going. Building a new stadium, building a young team, building a team ethos and building a work ethic. Building, building, building, one brick at a time. Such a pleasant change from the chaos that has reigned in the past.

But in these summer months, we Spurs fans need to dream a little. Indulge me, Tottenham 2.0, please.

* I forgot Dortmund failed to qualify for the Champions League this season! Thanks to @LiamMcGroryYID for pointing that out.

This blog has also been posted over at The Fighting Cock, please do check it out there and comment.

EXCLUSIVE: Daniel Levy reaches out to Tim Sherwood to discuss potential transfers

This blog has exclusively obtained a letter from Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood. Read on for details….

Dear Tim,

I’m writing to offer my commiserations following Aston Villa’s recent loss of Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke. As much as any club, Tottenham Hotspur can sympathise with the pain of seeing star players lured away by supposedly bigger clubs offering more money and greater status.

As a long-time member of the Spurs backroom staff, the inspiration behind the rise of academy prospects such as Harry Kane, and the holder of the highest winning percentage of any coach in the club’s history, I feel a duty to offer a hand of friendship and support in this difficult time. Us Hotspurs look out for each other, especially when times are tough. I feel we are in the position to help to rebuild your squad, see you climb up the Premier League table and unburden you of the weight the £40 million causing such a strain on the club’s bank account.

Here is what we can offer you:

Emmanuel Adebayor: A proven and experienced Premier League striker. Also a leader. It takes a special kind of manager to bring the best out of him, namely you. Under your leadership, he banged in 14 goals in 25 games, and surely represents the perfect replacement for Benteke, and in fact a potential upgrade. He is available for £5 million, and is owed another £5 million in wages, which I would expect Villa to comfortably meet as one of the biggest clubs in England.

Andros Townsend: An exciting winger who single-handedly secured England’s qualification for the World Cup in 2014, and rescued a point for England against Italy in a friendly in March. You guided his career at Spurs from a young age, as he embarked on a series of loans when it appeared he had nowhere near the talent to make it as a regular at White Hart Lane. You helped him prove everyone wrong. He is your’s for £15 million.

Tommy Carroll: Another young prospect, just 23, who has done in his time in the lower leagues. He was a pivotal part of the England Under-21 team that narrowly failed to secure glory at the recent championship in Czech Republic. His manager last season, Garry Monk of Swansea, said Carroll “reminded him of Joe Allen”. There is surely no greater endorsement of his penetrating passing abilities. We can offer him to you for £5 million.

Michel Vorm: A Dutch international goalkeeper with cat-like reflexes and excellent distribution. His concentration is good, most of the time. We signed him last summer when we thought Hugo Lloris was off, but our strategy of keeping Hugo locked in a basement all summer and then breaking his wrist just before preseason has been a success, so we no longer need such a well-renumerated and coiffured replacement. Your’s for £5 million, and we’ll also take Brad Guzan in return as, historically, we’ve had great success with bald American back-up goalkeepers.

Federico Fazio: A towering Argentine centre back. He was a Europa League winner with Seville and a man-mountain at the back for them. He formed a hugely impressive partnership with Jan Vertonghen last season, combining for two clean sheets. He is only available as we brought Toby Alderweireld from Athletico, as revenge against Southampton for not flogging us Morgan Schneiderlin last season on the cheap. He is available for £10 million.

Vlad Chiriches: As a statement of my bona fides, we are not offering you Vlad Chiriches, as you are a smart man and know he is an absolute calamity. Rumours that he has been sold to Galatasaray for £2.5 million are premature. We are in fact holding out for £5 million.

I’m keen to move quickly on these deals, and am happy to meet you halfway. Geographically that is — there is a Weatherspoons in Milton Keynes that does two lunches for a tenner, and you could probably expense that.

Best regards,

Daniel Levy