Monthly Archives: August 2015

10 things I hate about the transfer window

deadline day

Can that vanishing spray make the whole thing disappear?

The transfer deadline is upon us, a mercifully shortened affair this year with the new 6pm cut-off. I just hope Daniel Levy remembers the deadline is five hours earlier: judging by the weeks of claims and counter claims surrounding Spurs transfer activity, I’d rate the chances of us turning into mid-table pumpkins come 6pm as “high to inevitable”. Like many fans, I’ve fallen out of love with transfer deadline day in recent years. I think, after that manic day when Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano rocked up at Upton Park, it’s been downhill since. Sky’s coverage, certainly, has long since jumped the shark.

So here, as the rain lashes down and a fortnight-long international break begins, are 10 things that I hate about the transfer window.

Daniel Bloody Levy: Here we go again. Deadline day is upon us, and Spurs have big holes in the squad plus several unwanteds stuck on the payroll. Maybe Levy will pull a rabbit out of the hat, landing a Witsel where once he landed a Van der Vaart, but more likely Spurs will be left with the scraps. I understand that the Son Heung-min deal was one that may have happened later, but there is no excuse for failing to bring in Saido Berahino and Clinton N’Jie at the start of the window. Likewise, Levy totally failed to learn the lesson from Morgan Schneiderlin and move early for Victor Wanyama before Southampton take down their annual “for sale” sign. Maybe it is a result of a bad few recent windows, but Levy’s reputation in the transfer market is far from what it was and I am losing trust. If he has left Mauricio Pochettino without a back-up striker and a quality central midfielder, and if Emmanuel Adebayor and Aaron Lennon are still kicking around the club, he has let down his manager.

The Sky Sports News HQ Money Counter: “The Kevin De Bruyne deal brings the amount spent by Premier League clubs this window to £750 million,” a Sky Sports News HQ reporter with shiny bald head breathlessly tells the world. Do Sky not realize that it is its own viewers who are funding this? Us saps who’ve forked out hundreds of pounds a year for TV subscriptions, and many hundreds of pounds more to see the games? Sky is expensive, so maybe dial down a bit on rubbing our noses in it, will you? I am happy that the Premier League is successful, and proud that English football attracts so much global talent, but I hate the way Sky flaunts the excess. Hundreds of millions of that money will be pissed away on agents and players who contribute nothing and make no connection with fans. I don’t think this money counter is a GOOD thing — it is just a visual reminder of how bloody expensive football has become, and how our money is being misspent. It’s like the US debt clock, ticking ever upwards towards doom. But you sense the great reckoning is coming sooner for English football than the US economy.

Lack of transparency on numbers by clubs: If the amounts are grotesque, what gets me more is the lack of transparency. Spurs are about the worst club for this — Spurs NEVER state how much a transfer costs. I presume, this is for, how shall I put it, “accounting” reasons. Yeah, we all know — whatever it takes to keep Spurs competitive. But even if Spurs don’t benefit from transparency, fans would like to know — for example, just how much did Spurs actually lose on Roberto Soldado? As I said in the last point, it is our money that ultimately keeps this whole circus going. And it would be easy to do on a technical basis — FIFA’s transfer matching system could be made public. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Lies of the media: Some of the reporting of football falls foul of standards that would be expected in other sections of even most tabloid papers. Take The Sun, with it’s insistence through the summer that “Spurs are interested in Yannick Bolasie”. If you have followed this story, it is obvious that this is factually incorrect — the story is, “Yannick Bolasie is interested in a move to Spurs”. Bolasie and his agent have been shameless in trying to lure Spurs into a deal — not that I blame them, because Bolasie’s stock will never be higher and he’ll never have a better chance of a big contract. But newspapers wouldn’t get this sort of thing the other way round in other sections. “David Cameron interested in naming Boris Johnson as successor” is quite a different piece of news to “Boris Johnson interested in being named as David Cameron’s successor”. The football media should have higher standards, even in this age of shameless clickbaiting.

Lies of the managers: Statement of the window has surely come from Roberto Martinez, rivalled only by Brendan Rodgers as the leading talker of total guff among Premier League managers. On John Stones: “Obviously he’s been put under massive, massive pressure. The transfer request was something he didn’t mean to do.” Oh, alright then! What an unfortunate accident. It’s like that line in The West Wing when one of the characters tells his colleague he accidently slept with a call girl. “What, did you trip and fall?”

Demonization of the players: I felt sympathy with Raheem Sterling during the summer for the torrent of abuse he faced from the endless series of Liverpool talking heads across every TV station and in every newspaper. Apparently, due to the aura of the club and its great history, he should have accepted a lower than market-value wage and played for a manager who he no longer trusted with his career. Same now with Saido Berahino. WBA should either pay him what Spurs are prepared to pay him, or they should sell him. WBA have broken contracts through the summer in buying players, so they have no ground to stand on in terms of “Saido has a contract”. They are making him sound like, at best, a misguided idiot through their public statements. Berahino should fight back with statements of his own — I’d start by calling Tony Pulis a long-ball merchant with no record of developing young talent. And add that Jeremy Pearce is desperately trying to sell the club and has no vision for its future beyond a personal profit. And point out that Berahino’s career should not suffer for this. You know, up the ante a bit.

Arbitrary deadline: Why do we need a deadline at all in the first half of the season? I recall how the deadline used to be in March or something, and it seemed to work OK. So it was maybe a touch late — but why not shut if after, say, January? All it does is create an environment in which brinkmanship rules, clubs are more likely to buy players they don’t need, and value is hard to assess. I really can’t remember the justification of changing the transfer system, and would like to know how it stands up to the market reality now. Ignore what the managers say, making the window shorter in the summer will make it far more mad.

Sky Sports News HQ coverage: Is anyone else bored of Jim White, the yellow ties, and the excessive enthusiasm of experienced reporters for essentially very dull pieces of news? “Robert Huth is close to joining Leicester City on loan!” Oh sorry, say that again so I can Sky Plus it and have a record for eternity. Deadline day in January was the one day when I thought BT Sport did a better job than Sky — they mocked the whole thing, and it was actually quite funny.

Excessive reliance on super agents: Agents like Jorge Mendez make a killing essentially shuffling their roster of clients among the super rich clubs, thereby earning a percentage on every move. Good on them for finding a smart way of making money. But I hate the way this leaves some really good players stuck at clubs like Monaco, or out in Russia. Someone like Joao Moutinho would have graced the Premier League, I am sure, instead he is playing in front of a few thousand fans at Monaco. What a waste — I hope he enjoys his money. Likewise, you see English clubs relying excessively on agents — and limiting their choices. All of Villa’s French signings this summer had the same agent, I believe, while United lean on Mendez. These are big enterprises — it shows a terrible lack of imagination and ability to find value in the market.

The rush on medicals: The biggest problem of late business being done now, beyond matters of finance, logic and sanity, is that there isn’t enough time to do a proper medical. This isn’t just about the length of time a doctor needs to check the knees and hamstrings. It is about, if someone fails a medical, finding and agreeing a deal for a replacement and conducting a medical for him in turn. You see a scenario on Tuesday morning where Spurs fail to land Berahino and turn to Charlie Austin. Austin has previously failed a medical at Hull, but has a great fitness record in the past couple of years. So it could go either way. But certainly, you’d want to check him thoroughly, and leave enough time to find an alternative if the knee cartilage turns out to be in the Ledley King range. Or to put it another way, do your business goddam earlier, Levy.

So that’s 10. What am I missing?

Please follow me on Twitter (@crg_yeah)

Spurs 0-0 Everton: Six morning after thoughts


From Google Images

Spurs vs Everton was the first Spurs match I’ve been able to watch in full this season on TV, without the inconvenience of pop-up ads and shaky streams. In general, Spurs played well, should have won but could have lost. It’s four games, three points, three goals and zero wins. It’s too early panic, but panic is definitely on the agenda.

Dembele watch: Before the game, I thought this was a huge game for Mousa Dembele. In my view, he rarely produces much of substance, and against Everton he was our primary creative player. It was time to put up or shut up. Sadly, his game ended prematurely with a nasty looking injury — I hope he recovers soon. But the game itself was peak Dembele — plenty of beautiful touches, enough effort, threats of creativity, but absolutely no end product. Personally, I think we are on a road to nowhere with Dembele, at least in a creative role. Oddly, I feel him reprising his forward role, which he had when he first joined Fulham, may be the answer this season. Even if Berahino comes in, Spurs only have two strikers. Dembele can hold the ball up brilliantly, has some interesting movement and can trouble defenders. A false nine, with the likes of Deli Alli, Nacer Chadli and Clinton N’Jie running past, may be a nice option in the Europa League.

Dier watch: I thought Eric Dier was superb. He broke up the play and shielded the defence superbly. Some of his passing was lovely, and he rarely gave the ball away. He pressed with good intensity. Ross Barkley was firmly in his back pocket throughout the game. If you had never watched a Spurs game and seen him play, you’d be hard pressed to know Dier is a centre back by trade. What, realistically, would someone like Victor Wanyama have added to the performance from Dier? And more to the point, what massive flaw am I overlooking in Dier’s game? I like the cut of Dier’s jib, to put it in a slightly daft way, but I can see why he is a big Mauricio Pochettino favourite — he’s Poch’s little engine that could.

Kane watch: Harry should have scored when Mason put him through one-on-one. It was a poor touch that caused the damage, and then it was a battle of nerve with Tim Howard over who would commit first. Howard won. Overall, his play was very good — as always. I would like him to dial down on the interviews and publicity until the goals come again, as he is leaving himself exposed.

Poch watch: Make no mistake, Poch is going to get the blame if the results don’t improve. But what, realistically, could he have done more? Kane missed a one-on-one, Mason missed two, and Chadli fired over from close range. The team executed his gameplan, worked hard, created chances and were solid. This was a well coached team. They just aren’t a very good team, yet. The only criticism I have is that Pritchard should have come on 10 minutes earlier as Mason was flagging. But let’s not kid ourselves, Pritchard was making his Premier League debut — we have no idea if he is going to be good enough to impact on Premier League defences.

Levy watch: Poch has been left out to dry by Levy through the failure to bring in another forward. This game was crying out for a second striker with pace to come on against an Everton defence that went 120 minutes in midweek. Berahino could have been brought in months ago — it is just poor squad management, there are no excuses. The lack of a second striker cost us two points against Stoke and could have been the difference against Everton. I’m not sure the striker situation made much of a difference against Man Utd or Leicester, and although perhaps an experienced midfielder may have helped, one point in these two games is probably par. Overall, I’d say the cost of the slow transfer business is four points. Let’s see what that ends up costing us in terms European positions and prize money.

TV watch: According to Thierry Henry, Spurs’ failure to keep Berbatov, Modric, Bale and several unnamed other stars has cost us the opportunity to win the league. Likewise, the failure of humans to master time travel has prevented us from exploring new galaxies. F**king Levy. Henry is the Erik Lamela of TV pundits — very expensive, looks fancy but desperately lacking in any end product. Looks ill-suited to the high-intensity Sky Sports style, may be better off back on the slower paced Serie-BBC, possibly on loan with an option to buy.

Next on TV: We have Sunderland away after the international break on Sunday afternoon. Too soon for jokes about relegation six-pointers, but, well, time for a win.

Follow me on Twitter (@crg_yeah)

Lessons from Lamela: This transfer business is hard

Erik Lamela

From The Guardian via Google Images

The departures lounge at Heathrow airport could be a somber place on deadline day, with both Erik Lamela and Franco Baldini licking their wounds as they wait for flights back to Italy after two brutal years at Spurs.

Lamela’s exit isn’t yet confirmed, but appears more than likely, especially if as reported he has asked for a transfer and Inter Milan want him. Meanwhile the verdict has long been reached on Baldini’s reign as Director of Football and it has been about as effective as, well, a Lamela stepover.

Nobody can expect 100% of signings to work out, there will always be failures. But you generally want more successes than failures, and Baldini wasn’t even close. Only two — Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli — of his “Bale money” signings have been successes. The rest are all failures, and some such as Etienne Capoue and Vlad the Lad were failures by quite some margin. Baldini’s record didn’t get much better the following summer either.

It’s not just Spurs who waste millions on duff players. Look at Chelsea’s failure to find quality attacking midfielders

With the benefit of hindsight, we can question Baldini’s competence, and the decision making of Daniel Levy in entrusting him to the role. But can you honestly return to that summer and remember thinking, “meh, we could find someone better?”

Baldini had been Director of Football at Roma, a top Serie A club. He was Fabio Capello’s assistant as England manager, and had been with the Italian at Real Madrid. He was a hugely respected figure, with vast knowledge of the European game as well as that rare first-hand knowledge of England. Really, on paper, you were hard-pressed to think of a more suitable appointment for what Levy was hoping to achieve at that time.

Despite his overall poor record, I always thought Baldini would ultimately live or die by the Lamela signing. Not only was he a record signing, he was also from Roma where Baldini himself had been.

If there was one person in the world of football who would surely know if Lamela was the right man for Spurs, it was Baldini. Baldini knew the player, he knew English football after his tenure as Capello’s assistant, and he knew what Spurs needed after being handed a free reign and £100 million to turn the club into contenders. So how did he get it so wrong?

Was it simply incompetence? Of course there is some of that. This guy may have been smooth and well-connected, but that doesn’t mean he is great scout. But you don’t achieve the status Baldini has in the game by being a total chump.

To me, if the Lamela transfer flop shows one thing, it is how incredibly, incredibly hard transfers are.

It’s not just Spurs who waste millions on duff players. Look at Chelsea’s failure to find quality attacking midfielders, Man City’s failure up until this summer to improve its initial title winning squad, and Liverpool’s hilarious attempt to “do a Spurs” last summer after all of Brendan Rodgers’ big talk. Spurs may have had a rough couple of windows, but we’re in good company.

If Baldini couldn’t get it right with Lamela, then what hope is there for those without first-hand knowledge of a player?

Lamela’s problem wasn’t talent: he has a ton of that. It wasn’t positional: he was a left-footed winger at his best cutting in from the right, and Spurs needed exactly that. It wasn’t profile: the spiky hair and audacious trickery showed someone who felt he belonged. It wasn’t attitude: Lamela worked hard, got stuck in, and didn’t raise any red flags with off the field behaviour.

From what I can assess, Lamela’s problem was suitability to the English game. The pace, the intensity, or however else you want to describe it. Watching Lamela, it was like he just didn’t quite have the time he needed to make the passes, skill moves or runs that he had in Italy. The result was that he gave the ball away constantly, fouled constantly and rarely created chances or scored.

How do you see that problem coming? You can’t suddenly speed up a couple of Serie A games to see how he reacts. You only see someone like Lamela operate in the environment he is in, not how would be in a different one. How do you even begin to measure ability of players to adapt to different leagues? I’d be interested to see any analysis of this issue from the statistical perspective — I can’t recall reading anything, and as a layman I’ve got nothing.

Personally, I have sympathy with Lamela. The Spurs he leaves is utterly different from the one he joined. He thought he was joining a club that was primed for a tilt at the Premier League title, and he leaves a club rebuilding for a new stadium that doesn’t even have final planning permission yet. Even if he’d been the world-beater we’d hoped, I’m not sure he alone would have made much difference to the trajectory of the club. The only difference is he would be off to PSG or Real this summer, rather than heading back to Italy with his tail between his legs.

If a transfer goes wrong, as a minimum you have to learn why and avoid making the same mistake again. We’ve seen Man City realise that only the top of the range will improve them, so they’ve bought Sterling and (soon) De Bruyne. Liverpool have doubled down on their strategy from last summer, but along the way realised they need proven talent such as Milner and Benteke, not just prospects.

Spurs appear to have learned lessons too — we’ve bought in a new recruitment system with greater focus on analytics, and also appear to have been reinvesting in the scouting network which had evidently atrophied. But let’s not kid ourselves that this suddenly means we’ll start nailing transfers left, right and centre — new methods mean there are a whole host of new lessons just waiting to be learned.

You can bet your bottom dollar at least one of Son Heung-min, Clinton N’Jie, Kevin Wimmer, Keiran Trippier or Toby Alderweireld is a total flop. And probably more than one. All you can reasonably demand is that, on average, we start getting more right than we were previously, and that the failures are less glaring.

Just because the analysis that can go into transfers has become more sophisticated, it doesn’t mean that transfers have become “easier”. There will be more plenty more Lamelas to come, because this business is hard. Oh the joy of the transfer window.

Please follow me on Twitter using @crg_yeah for the latest articles and periodic thoughts on all things Spurs.

Defending a Spurs fan’s right to be an idiot


From Google Images

There is no escape from football in 2015. It is a 7-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year orgy of rumour-mongering, overreaction and outrage, interspersed with the odd 90-minute kickabout.

It’s bloody brilliant.

It’s not even that you don’t have to go a day without football, the Europa League plus the TV creep into Mondays and Fridays has long since seen to that. With Twitter, Reddit and the hundreds of blogs and football websites, you don’t have to go an instant without football if you don’t want to. Back in the day, you used to read the paper to find out what your team was up to, and if you wanted the latest information you’d check teletext. How did we ever cope?

With the sheer enormity of football, us fans have had to become sophisticated in how we seek information. We have to filter out the clickbait, dodge paywalls and understand the agendas put forward by certain pundits. Take the Telegraph — once a bastion of reliable reporting, good cricket writing and solid conservative views. Now, all on the same page, you have some of the most shameless clickbaiting you’ll see anywhere on the internet, the phoned-in bitterness of one ‘Arry Redknapp, plus the reporting of Matt Law and Jason Burt, the source of the most well-informed Spurs news all summer.

On Twitter, you’ve got to find the right people to follow, on Reddit you’ve got to learn not to get into arguments with 15-year-olds who can snark faster than you, and online you’ve got to learn that ITK generally means “don’t have a sodding clue but do love getting hits on my website”.

I love reading the Spurs-supporting stats guys (yup, they are generally guys…) like Michael Caley and James Yorke, and am frequently enlightened. But expected goals? I think it is the “massively f**king predictable” goals like the one on Saturday by Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez that we need to focus on. I respect the work that goes into those massive pieces full of tactical GIFs, but I never read them because if the Spurs defenders can’t be bother to learn from their errors, I’ll be damned if I can be. I admire the efforts to bring logic to the chaos that is football, but sometimes, and maybe it is just a reaction to watching too many Spurs games, it feels a bit like a dog chasing its tail.

I prefer cherry picking pieces of knowledge from here and there, and shamelessly using the fruits of other people’s labour to support my preexisting conclusions. Does that make me worse? Or is that how we all operate, deep down? Just because an argument is well argued, mathematically reasoned and regressed to a factor of a million, doesn’t mean it isn’t just as wrong as the luddite, Not ITK, scribbled-down-on-the-back-of-a-napkin, hopelessly random points of view put forward periodically by piss-poor bloggers such as myself.

My problem with football is that the more I think about it, the more ridiculous it becomes. Where more forensic minds are able to dissect and make sense of aspects of the game, my response is emotional. When Spurs have a good result, I get my blinkers on and see nothing but sunshine. When Spurs have a bad result, I go through the seven stages of grief in five minutes flat. The rest of the time, I find myself obsessing over minutiae, getting worked up over things I have no control over, or being utterly overwhelmed by the sheer ludicrousness of modern football and the existential questions that this triggers.

What is football?

And why football?

Football used to be a town-wide excuse for a day-long brawl, so is it really any wonder it is now run by a criminal organization operating out of a bunker in a tax haven that attempted to sell the sport’s soul to a petro state? Oh I’m sorry, it’s the beautiful game now.

In England, football was something that took place once a week, something for communities, something that became a national event only on FA Cup final day. Football on a Saturday, church on a Sunday. What happened? Looking at it in the cold light of day, I’m really surprised God lost that one.

Football has become mindblowingly vast. Deloitte reported that FC Barcelona generated 1.2% of the entire city of Barcelona’s GDP in the previous season. Barcelona! Sure Messi is a good player and the Qatar sponsorship deal is a lucrative one, but this is a city of 1.6 million people, 7.5 million tourists a year, the economic, cultural and political capital of Spain’s wealthy Catalonia region, the birthplace of Gaudi, an Olympic host city. Mes que un club? Well, erm, yes actually.

Chairman no longer have to simply hire and fire managers, count ticket sales and sign off on transfers. They must balance currency fluctuations, develop sophisticated tax reduction strategies and assess values of image rights in player deals. Managers don’t just handle tactics and morale, there is sports science, psychology and media to consider too. Football journalists no longer just write 300 word match reports for the Green ‘Un. They have to investigate finances, uncover corruption and assess corporate intrigue, all the while transforming themselves into social media brands immune to industry cutbacks with thousands of inquisitive followers who require more attention that editors ever did. Massive corporations outbid each other for the multi-billion pound right to broadcast a few hours of live action per week.

But when you stop and think about it, the foundation of this vast panoply is weird in the extreme. Supporting a team, and all the revenue generating opportunity for the industry it triggers, is supremely irrational.

Iain Macintosh reported delightfully last week on the Carlisle United fans travelling down to Plymouth for a 4-1 defeat and back again. You can admire these people, you can respect their dedication and stamina, but you have to acknowledge a stark truth: they are utterly bonkers.

The other week, I went to see my local team, relegated two seasons in a row, get beaten at home by local rivals. Ticket prices have stayed the same, the football has gotten infinitely worse, but there were over 5,000 people still thinking “we’ll turn it round this year” despite there being zero evidence in favour.

Last Saturday, I chose to spend a glorious weekend afternoon sat inside my living room, constantly refreshing a sh***y stream so I could watch the Spurs match even though it was lagging two minutes behind Soccer Saturday and I knew how the mess unfolded before I saw it. Did I get any pleasure from watching Spurs struggle against Leicester while I struggled to shut down the pop-up gambling ads? Not really. The Deli Alli moment was nice, but my happiness at that was more than outweighed by the anger at the goal that followed. Will I do the same again on the next match that is not televised? Oh yes. Football is a drug, just as addictive but with fewer highs.

Mind you, Spurs are a particularly abusive team to support. A deadly combination of high expectations, almost inevitable disappointment, plus a long-held tradition of general softness and inability to perform when needed. I always love reading little Reddit things by new Spurs fans explaining why they have chosen Spurs. Oh you guys don’t know what you’ve let yourself in for!

Is it rational to be waking up in the middle of the night to check news about Spurs? Is it rational for a grown man to be following academy prospects on Twitter and despairing when you fear they’ll be among the 99% who don’t actually make it? Is it rational to spend hours obsessing over transfer targets, tactics, dressing room cliques, styles of play and selection, things you have precisely zero control over?

Nope, rational it ain’t. Being a football fan is utterly irrational, if you boil it down to its constituent parts. I don’t care if my club considers me a Client Reference Number, and the industry considers me a cow to be milked. I happily submit to it, if that allows me to get on with being a Spurs fan.

If there is one thing that truly annoys me about football, it’s the idea that some fans are somehow “better” than others. Liverpool fans are the worst of course, the belief that they are “purer” than other fans. But at least you can rely on them to take the bait.

But there is discrimination even amongst Spurs fans — “you don’t go to the games, so your view isn’t worth anything.” Just because you don’t attend the games, or choose not to, doesn’t make your opinion invalid. This is a club with a 45,000-long waiting list for season tickets. Sure, if you watch every game you may be able to offer more first-hand insight, but there is no such thing as a better opinion. And let’s not kid ourselves, 99.9% of what is written and spoken about Spurs is opinion.

Personally, I love that fact that Spurs have fans all over the world, and everyday new people in places like the US and Australia are having that awful moment of realization: “Oh god, I’m a Spurs fan”. Not every fan lives in London, not every fan lives in the UK, not every fan can afford a ticket, not every fan is able to make the games. There are just Spurs fans, that is all the counts. There’s no better, there’s just different.

We are now at that silly time of the season when the media and footballing intelligentsia are desperately trying to avoid drawing too many conclusions from too few number of games. Websites run articles like “Top 10 Knee Jerk Reactions”, and then invite kneejerk reactions to the kneejerk reactions.

My kneejerk? So what! It’s an emotional game, we are meant to react — apathy isn’t a normal reaction to football, unless you were a Villa fan under Paul Lambert.

If you want to freak out over the fact the squad had only one striker to start the season, go ahead.

If you want to scream at Daniel Levy for once again failing to provide Mauricio Pochettino with the central midfielder he craves, go ahead.

If you want to defend Erik Lamela, praise Mousa Dembele and dismiss Nacer Chadli, go ahead.

If you want to write off the season, claim that “this will be our year”, hype our young prospects to unimaginable levels, go ahead.

If you think Emmanuel Adebayor still has a role to play, Hugo Lloris should be sold and Christian Eriksen is just a poor man’s Danny Murphy, go ahead.

If you think that 4-2-3-1 is too limiting and we should be back to four-four-f**king-two, go ahead.

If you are “Poch out”, “Levy out”, “Kyle Walker out”, or the whole bloody lot of them out, go ahead.

There’s no right opinion, there’s no wrong opinion, there’s just being a Spurs fan and the emotions this triggers.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not ITK, can’t create a spreadsheet and have never set foot at White Hart Lane. Ignore the snark, the cynicism, the insidious attempts at logic, and have an opinion.*

Us Spurs fans should never forget we still have the right to be foaming-at-the-mouth, hypocritical, kneejerk, over-reactionary, deluded, one-eyed idiots. It’s how we cope.

*(I’d add a caveat though, in light of the extraordinary recent revelations by Martin Cloake, if you could keep your opinions civil and not entirely directed at THST leadership, that would be appreciated…)

A cheeky Spurs transfer idea: rescuing Danny Ings from Liverpool

ing kane berahino

From Google Images. I believe the large fella is the Belarus U-21 coach…

It’s only two games in, but Danny Ings has yet to kick a ball for Liverpool in anger and will presumably be back on the bench against Arsenal tonight. It could be a long season for him.

Sure, at Spurs, he would be behind Our Lord and Saviour Harry Kane in the pecking order, but he’d have had a good run out by now. My guess, he would have started at Old Trafford with Kane far from match-fit, and he would have seen plenty of minutes against Stoke and especially Leicester.

Even if, as looks likely, Spurs sign Saido Berahino, a three-man strike force of Kane, Ings and Berahino would be versatile and surely offer plenty of playing time to all three through the season. Mauricio Pochettino likes a goalscoring wideman in the Jay Rodriguez mold. All three are capable of playing either number 10 or wide, as well as up top, as they’ve shown for England U-21s. Spurs options on both flanks are so underwhelming — Nacer Chadli aside. The thought of Chadli switching to the right, Ings on the left cutting inside in the Rodriguez manner and Berahino impacting off the bench is an intriguing one, to put it mildly.

At Liverpool, Ings is behind Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge in the striker pecking order, not to mention Roberto Firmino. Liverpool also want to give time to Divock Origi, another prospect. Meanwhile they have Jordan Ibe, Lazar Markovic, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana in the attacking midfield/wideman roles. Liverpool also have Mario Balotelli on the payroll, and Fabio Borini is still there I believe, although presumably they will want to shift the both of them by the deadline.

I wonder if Ings is regretting his decision to go to Liverpool rather than Spurs yet? Sure, the money is far better at Liverpool and it is a marginally bigger club (although not in terms of recent league positions), but that surely doesn’t sufficiently compensate for the lack of action he faces. I fear he was badly advised by his agent, or Liverpool offered false promises about the summer transfer strategy. Or, more likely, Liverpool was making up its transfer strategy on the hoof through the summer…

If he is regretting his move, is it too late to change his mind and come to Spurs?

It’s not quite as mad as it sounds.

For starters, no fee has yet been set or paid to Burnley from what I have read. With Spurs bidding £12 million, and Burnley having to spend £9 million on Andre Gray, a striker with one year of experience in the Championship, to replace him, the bargain fee of £5 million that Liverpool likely budgeted for seems sure to be inflated. One assumes there must be a bottom to the pit of money Liverpool are spending, although perhaps not.

Second, while I’m not sure on the rules of being transferred twice in the same window, he could definitely leave on loan with a full deal agreed for January.

This could be a tidy solution for all parties: Liverpool turn a quick profit on a player they don’t need, and Spurs get another bloody striker. Spurs could, say, make up the difference between what the tribunal settles on, and what it bid to Burnley.

I believe Liverpool are still down a fair few million on the hilarious Robbie Keane deal a while back, so we could perhaps just call it even?

Ings joins a team that actually needs him and where he can develop properly alongside a bunch of his England U-21 buddies. England gets one of its most promising young strikers playing regularly.

Now of course, I’m sure Ings will not want to swallow his pride that quickly, and ego will dictate that he sticks it out for at least a year. He’ll get the odd game in the Europa League, and both Benteke and Sturridge are injury prone.

But Danny, if you are starting to feel a twinge of regret, you are still welcome down at the Lane.

(I flopped this one into F365 mailbox as well earlier)

To dare is to do differently

Football - Italy v England - International Friendly - Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy - 31/3/15 Andros Townsend celebrates with Ryan Mason, Kyle Walker and Harry Kane after scoring the first goal for England Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine Livepic

Reuters via Google Images

On one of my endless car journeys this weekend as I move house, I tuned in for a moderately interesting discussion on the state of the English game on Radio 5Live involving Mark Lawrenson and Jermaine Jenas, which feels an unlikely sentence now I’ve written it.

Nevertheless, the BBC pundits were debating the travails of Manchester United in keeping David de Gea out of the clutches of Real Madrid, and it got to talking about why, despite all the money sloshing about the upper reaches of English football, our biggest clubs really aren’t quite as big as the Spanish clubs and couldn’t attract or keep the mega stars of world football. Obviously, there are many explanations for this, but Jenas noted that English clubs were behind in development of their own stars.

He didn’t expand as the conversation moved on, but it was a good point. What he meant was that, when you develop someone like Messi, Iniesta or Muller, you are much more likely to keep hold of them. They have an emotional attachment to the club, and are the most reliable building blocks for great teams as they are the least likely players to be swayed by money and move away. Obviously, they aren’t guaranteed to stay, but if they do it is more likely to be later in their careers when they want a new challenge.

Unsurprisingly, this conversation got me thinking about Spurs, and how we compare to other English clubs in the homegrown stakes.

Barcelona and Bayern are obviously the most famous clubs in terms of youth development, and their squads have a large number of homegrown players, supplemented with stars of the the world game. If any clubs feel like a model to follow, it is these two.

On the other hand, there were very few homegrown players of any classification on show among the biggest five English clubs this weekend.

Here is a look at the squads:

Manchester United: None in starting X1. On the bench, Andreas Pereira, a Brazilian who first moved to PSV and then to Man United aged 16. Sam Johnstone — a fully homegrown player who was due to go out on loan but was in the squad due to the chaotic goalkeeping situation at the club. Paddy McNair — a fully homegrown player.

Chelsea: John Terry in starting XI, no other homegrown players in matchday squad.

Arsenal: In starting XI, Francis Coquelin joined club at age of 17 from France. Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were developed at Cardiff and Southampton respectively, and joined for large fees. On the bench, Kieran Gibbs is fully homegrown, while Theo Walcott and Callum Chambers were bought from Southampton for large fees.

Liverpool: In starting XI, Joe Gomez was bought from Charlton this summer for a large fee. Jordan Ibe was signed aged 16 from Wycombe Wanderers, after he’d already appeared 7 times for the Buckinghamshire club. None on bench.

Manchester City: Joe Hart was bought aged 18 (or maybe 19) from Shrewsbury for a modest fee, after he made more than 50 appearances for the Shropshire club. On the bench, Jason Denayer was brought over from Belgium aged 17 or 18, while Kelechi Iheanacho joined the club from Nigeria at the same age.

Whichever way you look at it, it is slim pickings. John Terry, like him or loathe him, appears very much the exception — he came through the youth system at Chelsea (via West Ham at a young age) and has been a stalwart for more than a decade. Joe Hart may not be a Manchester boy, and has had his ups and downs, but nevertheless he is part of the furniture at the Etihad now. Maybe Jordan Ibe becomes the next Liverpool legend, but you only have to look at the Raheem Sterling debacle to see how things can unfold for young prospects at Liverpool who don’t have Scouse DNA, for all that entails.

A fair number of the players have been purchased from overseas into the youth systems at a relatively late age — I presume this is a result of the change in rules regarding classification of homegrown players a while back. The success of this strategy is open to question — over the years, how many of these young guns drafted in at the age of 16 or 17 have made the grade and stayed long-term?

A fun football parlour game is to guess: Where is Frank Arnesen now? He wasn’t at Spurs long, but his record at Chelsea in the five years he was sporting director looks increasingly poor. None of the youth players he signed have amounted to much (I guess there is Nemanja Matic, eventually and expensively), and Chelsea have been abject in getting youth players into the first team, despite years of success in youth competitions. Gary Neville summed it up last season when Ruben Loftus-Cheek was “paraded like an exotic animal” to the media before getting a few minutes of Champions League action the following evening.

(Frank Arnesen, since leaving Chelsea in 2010, has been at the German basket case Hamburg, Metalist in Ukraine and now PAOK in Greece. My guess is, his reputation isn’t quite what it was within the game)

Arsenal’s record is better, or at least that is the perception. But is it really? Here are a few names from the 2010/2011 squad, that could be considered homegrown or were purchased directly into the youth teams:

Djourou, Song, Wilshere, Fabregas, Eboue, Denilson, Bendtner, Fabianski, Diaby, Gibbs, Vela, Mannone, Traoré, Frimpong.

It is quite a list! A parade of young imports, once the future of the club and the building blocks through the tough financial period of the early Emirates days, have been and gone. Just Wilshere and Gibbs remain, and Arsenal have produced no consistent first-teamers since then. You can argue that, for the huge fees received for Fabregas and Clichy, Arsenal’s strategy worked — but only if the strategy was purely financial, and not long-term team-building.

When did Manchester United last produce a regular first-term contributor? Jonny Evans I believe. Sure, James Wilson got a few games last season but is far from a regular, while Adnan Januzaj may or may not be a world-class player in the making. He’s an import into the academy in his late teens — a bit like Paul Pogba, now a world-class player at Juventus and football’s Mr Clickbait, and Gerard Pique, a stalwart for Barcelona ever since leaving and the partner of Shakira. The Da Silva twins are both out of the club now. It feels an awfully long way from the Class of 92.

Manchester City are linked with almost every young English prospect around, so desperate are they to hit homegrown quotas. They’ve produced no young players since the injection of the Abu Dhabi oil money. They don’t have a single Mancunian in their first team squad.

Liverpool meanwhile, now without Stevie Gerrard, have all of one Scouser in their first team squad for the Premier League this season: Jon Flanagan. Flanagan, 35 career appearances for the club, is the closest Liverpool have come to getting a local boy up through the ranks since Gerrard himself, all those years ago. After that? Anyone remember Jay Spearing? Neil Mellor? Again, it feels a long time since Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman.

I should add, this isn’t a jingoistic point. There are plenty of foreign players who have come in, and become deeply attached to their clubs, like Thierry Henry did at Arsenal (yes, us Spurs fans can accept he was a great player now that he is long retired). You take Vincent Kompany, who wandered as a prodigy from Anderlecht to Hamburg, but who blossomed into a world-class player at Manchester City and found a home. Now, more than anyone, he is the pillar of the club and the connecting point for fans, and even has a Mancunian accent, amusingly.

Spurs stand very much in contrast.

The squad on Saturday featured a number of players of various homegrown classifications: Kyle Walker, Nabil Bentaleb, Our Lord and Saviour Harry Kane, Ryan Mason and Tommy Carroll. Danny Rose, Alex Pritchard and Andros Townsend may all have made the squad if they were fit. Spurs are going very much all-in on youth at the moment, and as I noted recently, this is pretty risky and may not be a strategy our chairman has the required patience to pull off.

This doesn’t make Spurs better or worse in terms of “how you should do things”. Despite what Liverpool fans may think, there is no footballing “purity test” that somehow renders some clubs superior to others.

But when you look at the record of the Big Five (let’s face it, we are 6th by most measures), you can see why Spurs are thinking of going a different route. It’s the old Billy Beane line about the Oakland A’s front-office in the Moneyball movie — “We play like the Yankees in here, we’ll lose to the Yankees out there”. Until the new stadium is built, Spurs don’t have a hope of competing financially, so basic logic screams out: Be different.

It will be a losing road for a while. It will be a lonely road while Spurs sink out of the media spotlight that focuses in on the bigger-spending clubs. And it may be road to nowhere, given the immense vagaries in the development of human beings and ability to maximize potential.

But for the time being, as a Spurs fan I’ll take pride in seeing a fair number of local boys trotting out at the Lane, and also pulling on the England shirt with regularity.

Random thoughts as the new season dawns

kane celebrate

I spent yesterday in cricket heaven (Pomicide!) and computer hell (Windows anything), so no time for any blogging. But I had a few thoughts flicker into my head in between Aussie wickets, transfer rumour tweets and smashing my sodding computer to bits.

When even Poch thinks Top 4 is unrealistic, we should accept that it’s not going to happen.

When even Poch thinks Top 4 is unrealistic, Levy should accept that it’s not going to happen.

When Baldini is ushered out, as Spurs are no longer looking to buy established players and are focusing on youth instead, we should accept that big-money signings aren’t going to happen.

Why is Windows 8.1 continuing to torture me, even now Windows 10 is available? I’m back to Windows 8.0, have lost access to Office and can no longer even type properly without the cursor jumping to random spots on the page.

When am I just going to buy a Chromebook?

Would Spurs be better off selling Hugo? It feels almost cruel forcing a keeper in his prime to stay in a team that is clearly rebuilding. He must be miserable. Why not sell him, use the money on a good keeper prospect (Timo Horn?) and then pick up one or two potential future difference-makers (Werner, N’Jie) with the remaining cash? Vorm is an OK transitional keeper, or someone solid like Brad Guzan may be available?

Is Charlie Austin a smart signing for Spurs, or is this just the very peak of transfer window desperation? I’m just saying, when was the last time Spurs had a reliable striker off the bench? Jermain Defoe before he was knackered? It’s been a while, so long we’ve almost forgotten.

Where is Bobby Soldado?

We are stuck with Adebayor. This guy no longer wants to play football, and would prefer to pick up his £100,000 a week this season without having to play or train.

I like the fact that NO-ONE is talking about Spurs in a serious way. When was the last time Spurs were so unfancied, and entered the season with so little pressure?

I can’t wait to see some of these youngsters in action, especially Deli Alli and Alex Pritchard.

I worry that Toby Alderweireld may block Eric Dier’s development. I think Dier could be a star, but needs to be playing Premier League football, not Europa League, and in central defence, not midfield or fullback. That said, when do we start thinking that Dier is a better option than Jan?

We aren’t going to beat Manchester United.

I love football, and am so glad the season is back, but as I get older, I just love cricket more and more. I reserve the right to reverse that opinion after Spurs’ 8-15 moment this season.

I can’t watch the match live on Saturday, and won’t be able to see Spurs again on British TV until August 29. The matches against Stoke and Leicester will likely combine for no more than 10 minutes of highlights on Match of the Day. How can this still be the case in 2015?

A doomsday preview: What if Spurs are worse?

Hugo-Lloris 2

It’s November 29, 2015. It’s cold and wet, one of those slate-grey London winter mornings when it never really seems to get light. Spurs fans trudge through the damp streets to White Hart Lane, still bleary eyed, for a Sunday midday kick-off. The mood is quiet, tetchy almost. Not like the same fixture last year, a 5.30pm kick-off on New Year’s Day, stadium buzzing throughout and the roof near as lifting off as Harry Kane reigned supreme. It’s Chelsea at home, and last year we won 5-3.

Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea circus top the table and are on a roll. Spurs, meanwhile, are struggling.

It’s been a tough month, which it always looked like being when the fixtures were drawn. Harry Kane picked up a knock with England during the international break, and the goals have dried up. Timo Werner and Clinton N’Jie have looked talented, but they aren’t yet Premier League goal scorers. The midfield, meanwhile, has been creaking. Things started badly with the first game of the month, when Arsenal narrowly won a hard-fought derby, Theo Walcott slotting home a late winner at the Emirates. No disgrace, but no pleasure going into the international break. The disgrace came next time round. West Ham visited the Lane and took the three points after a limp Spurs performance, the ghost of Big Sam laughing throughout. In between the London derbies, Spurs face a grueling Thursday trip to Ukraine for the penultimate game of what already feels like a never-ending Europa League group stage. They return on Friday afternoon tired after a long flight and a match on a quagmire of a pitch. They’ve tried to rotate, but you can’t rotate your way through mental fatigue. Chelsea meanwhile enjoyed a home romp on Tuesday night against their Champions League group whipping boys, Celtic.

Mourinho has his team primed for revenge after last year’s New Year’s Day massacre, and they are fresh and fully prepared. They come out of the gate hard, our midfield collapsing like a paper bag under an intense press. Kyle Walker is shredded by Eden Hazard. Chelsea smash two early goals, a panicked Spurs ship a stupid third, Hugo looks a picture of misery as he picks the ball out of the net again and again. The atmosphere is toxic as fans slink out of the stadium after another goes in, cursing in the direction of the Directors Box as they go. Why didn’t we strengthen more in the summer? Where are the experienced players?

Tottenham 0 Chelsea 4.

I desperately hope this AVB-ian nightmare doesn’t unfold. I deeply believe we are a stronger, hungrier and better coached team than we were under the Portuguese, the emperor’s new clothes personified. But, just days before the start of season, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had some fear about the season ahead.

My last blog focused on trying to define what would constitute success for Spurs this season. I stuck it up on Reddit and was surprised by how consistent the reaction was. Fifth was generally accepted as a success, unless Daniel Levy pulls a rabbit out of the hat and lands a real difference maker or two in the final weeks of the window. Yup…

Meanwhile, it’s preview time in the Spurs blogosphere, and the mood is generally one of gloom, rather than the pre-season optimism that normally prevails at this time. James Yorke’s excellent curtain-raiser on Statsbomb, and Alan Fisher’s superbly balanced preview (with added Ray Charles), are must-reads.

We’ve just played Real Madrid, and have AC Milan this evening. Then we are away at Manchester United for the Saturday lunchtime kick-off, and Mauricio Pochettino has even admitted they tried to get the game moved to Sunday. I’ve argued that the Audi Cup may help our sharpness, but I’m pretty sure now that I’m wrong and have been arguing for the sake of it. Football fans do that sometimes, desperately trying to find the positives. In the cold light of day, it feels a pointless exercise at best, and an unnecessary risk that damages our chances of a strong start at worst.

My consistent thought, over the past couple of days, has been as follows: What if, instead of hitting or surpassing expectations this season, we are just worse?

As I noted in my last piece, it feels like the gap between Spurs and the Top Four is bigger than ever. Furthermore, it feels like the gap between Spurs and the rest has shrunk. It’s not like we’ve necessarily gone backwards over the summer — the addition of Toby Alderweireld should be a much-needed upgrade at the heart of the defence — it’s more that the other teams around us have gotten relatively better.

The season is now upon us and we still have glaring holes in our squad. Ryan Mason remains the first choice in midfield, which is alarming as he is far from great. Kane is the ONLY striker in the squad for the Audi Cup and no doubt in the squad for Old Trafford. This feels bordering on negligence at this point.

After a strong start to the window, Spurs have brought in no players in the past month. Daniel Levy has gone into full Captain Ahab mode with what appears an increasingly doomed pursuit of that White Whale of a transfer target, a young, talented and cheap striker. He must surely realize that he is driving the manager and supporters insane, and that the points lost in August could be the difference between Champions League and Europa League come May? Just get on with it, please.

If you look at the teams that finished below Spurs in the league, and the players they’ve bought and sold, you can see some real threats to Spurs. I won’t go through them individually, but in my view, Liverpool, Southampton, Swansea, Stoke and Everton could ALL finish above Spurs this season if we’re not careful or things don’t go our way.

(Oddly, despite being the love of statsheads and hipsters everywhere, I’m a bit down on Southampton and think they will struggle. I see a Laudrup-at-Swansea scenario — he inherits a strong team and does well, but struggles to recapture the magic as good habits erode and the Europa League takes its inevitable toll.)

Despite the positive mood music that comes out of Spurs about the relationship between head coach and chairman, as Spurs fans we are right to be cynical about hailing the new long-term strategy as a new dawn

As the Statsbomb preview noted, Spurs outperformed a number of statistical measures last season. It certainly felt that way — all those last minute Eriksen and Kane winners, now the dust has settled, they do seem a bit unlikely, don’t they? Sure, Poch’s fitness regime may have made a difference, but towards the end of the season, those late goals stopped coming, and we slid quietly backwards.

I’d say this about the season ahead: I’m more confident predicting Spurs will miss out on the Top Four than I am predicting Spurs will finish in the Top Six. Probably, on balance, I’d put my money on sixth, but with such a young squad and with such massive holes remaining so close to kick-off, it feels overly optimistic to rule out the possibility of Spurs falling into the mid-table pack. I’ll be curious to see where our wage bill sits once the transfer window is closed — that is normally a fairly good indicator of where a team may finish. There is no divine right to continue to expect Spurs to perform better and better, while spending less and less on talent than rivals.

By relying so heavily on youth, both to continue to develop individually into world-class players and produce consistently as a team, Spurs are engaging in a high-wire act. The last team to go “all-in” on youth in this way was Aston Villa in the first year of Paul Lambert. Then, they thought their crop of youngsters (the likes of Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clark, Andreas Weimann) were a new dawn that meant the club could stop spending. Villa have flirted with relegation each season since, abandoned the strategy after it transpired that none of the youngsters turned into stars, and are now managed by Tim Sherwood. Spurs are better than Villa because we know Harry Kane is miles better than any player Villa produced, but there is a reason most clubs go for experience: you know what you are going to get and can plan accordingly.

Despite the positive mood music that comes out of Spurs about the relationship between head coach and chairman, as Spurs fans we are right to be cynical about hailing the new long-term strategy as a new dawn. We’ve lurched from one new dawn to another under Levy’s guidance. I’m not part of the “Levy Out” brigade as through it all we’ve had brilliant players, kept our Premier Leagues status as other similar size clubs such as Newcastle and Leeds have struggled horribly, and generally been entertained. But let’s be honest, Levy’s judgement on football matters has proved to be questionable — just look at the previous two summers.

Furthermore, I’d add that I just don’t think Levy himself is patient enough to see through this type of long-term plan, of building up a hungry, young, homegrown team under a hungry, young coach in time to challenge in the magnificent new stadium that isn’t yet built. Levy sacks managers because it works — toss the angry mob a bloodied head and it takes the focus of anger away from the director’s box. I just don’t doubt, when results turn sour and Spurs are languishing in mid-table, a new manager and expensive crop of experienced players will come in. Leopards don’t change their spots.

As I said earlier, I think Spurs are a better team under Pochettino and are less inclined to the type of implosion that occurred under AVB and Sherwood. But I don’t think it is unduly negative to fear there is a good chance we’ll bump along in mid-table this season, without ever really threatening the Top Four. Maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe a year out of the Europa League is actually just what we need. But we’ll then be relying on the vagaries of cup draws, and the hope of a few more magic Harry Kane moments, to consider our season a success.

I love the fact we have so many homegrown players coming through, and enjoyed Kane’s emergence as a star striker more than anything in recent years as a Spurs fan, even those exhilarating moments when Gareth Bale turned into a monster and destroyed Inter Milan. But I just can’t shake that feeling, as the new season dawns, that we may not have progressed by as much as required, and as a result could be relatively worse.

Attempting to define success for Spurs in 2015/2016

poch sideline

A question: What would a successful 2015/2016 season look like for Spurs?

Not such an easy one to answer, when you start thinking about it.

Two years ago, I was convinced Spurs had finally made the breakthrough after spending the proceeds of the Gareth Bale money on what looked like a batch of quality players. Perhaps cautious of the huge disappointment that followed, I tempered my “this will be our year” thoughts somewhat last August. Nevertheless the weakness at Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool made me think the Top Four was still on, especially if some of the Bale brigade improved after their tricky starts.

Instead, we saw conclusive proof that tens of millions of pounds had been wasted on the likes of Roberto Soldado, so much so that Mauricio Pochettino was forced to turn to young players like Harry Kane and Ryan Mason. And, perhaps more by accident than design, things turned around and Spurs fans started feeling happy again.

But was last season a success? It could go either way.

More optimistic sorts will say fifth place was good given the circumstances, a trip to Wembley brightened the season despite the result, and we had two outstanding derby performances at the Lane that will live long in the memory. Furthermore, we unearthed a genuine homegrown superstar, with the promise of more to come.

More pessimistic sorts will say we missed out the Top Four AGAIN, were miles behind Arsenal AGAIN, failed in Europe AGAIN, and had to endure horror shows at the Lane against the likes of Newcastle and Villa AGAIN.

There’s no right answer, and I prevaricate between the two positions as most fans do. After all it is an emotional reaction as much as a logical one. Overall, I’d say it was a fairly successful season: given the total failure of most of the experienced players, fifth was good and I’m hugely excited about the future. But, I have to be honest, I thought we could get Top Four and we were nowhere near. Fairly successful, but not an outright success.

How many other clubs would need to go through this sort of equivocation before deciding whether a season went well or not?

So, what would a successful season look like this time?

Before I sketch out the possibilities, I should qualify things by saying this debate feels inherently Spursy.

How many other clubs would need to go through this sort of equivocation before deciding whether a season went well or not? For Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United, it is surely title or failure. For Liverpool, it is Top Four or bust, possibly literally given how much they are spending. For the promoted teams and cellar dwellers like Leicester and Villa, all that matters is survival. For most other clubs, you say Top Half, while bigger (Everton) or better run (Swansea, Southampton, Stoke) may say Europa League is a fair benchmark. But Spurs are in a weird position with revenues miles ahead of the bigger five clubs, but a way ahead of Everton in 7th, and this debate may be an expression of that.

So, some league positions:

Top Four: We can all agree, Top Four would equal success.

Fifth: This is where it gets tricky. By revenues/size of club/however you want to put it, Spurs rank behind Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool. It is just a fact at this stage, and is the reason we’re building a bloody massive new stadium. I’ve argued recently that Spurs shouldn’t consider fifth a failure — the problem is that the Champions League is such a huge financial reward that missing out by just one place feels like failure. Finishing fifth is exceeding were we are “supposed” to be — but it is still somewhat unsatisfying. Can success be unsatisfying?

Sixth: Again, this is where we are “supposed” to be, so it feels harsh to call it a failure. A success though? Probably not. But saying that, does it even matter at all if you finish fifth or sixth? The reward is the same — Europa League rather than Champions League. I’d say, this is where style comes in. If Spurs are right in the chase for the Top Four until the end, and then just miss out and are pipped to fifth by goal difference, surely that is better than doing what we did last year, which was fall out of contention with a long way to go, only to recover slightly and pick up a place as Liverpool crumbled? It would certainly be more exciting — and as a club built on audere est facere and “failing while aiming high”, I’d like to think we could find success in a sixth place finish in the right circumstances. Furthermore, it depends on who we finish above or behind.

Seventh or below: Barring a few outlier scenarios, or an incredibly tight Top Four contest that sees Spurs nudged into seventh by just a point or on goal difference, seventh or lower should mean the season is considered a failure.

What other outcomes could be considered a success?

A trophy: Europa League victory would be a massive success, especially with the Champions League reward. FA Cup would be preferable to League Cup, but at this point, any trophy would be a hugely welcome addition to the trophy cabinet, and I’d happily sacrifice a few league positions. At the very least, we need another cup run.

Finishing above Arsenal: It’s been 20 long years, and it is really hard to envisage how Spurs are going to do this with Arsenal looking so strong in so many positions. But it would be bloody hilarious, especially as it would mean something absolutely bananas has happened over at the Emirates.

Finishing above Liverpool: This isn’t for everyone, but I really loathe Liverpool, and take great pleasure in the fact we’ve more or less had their number in recent years in league position. I just find the club so arrogant and boring, especially with the phalanx of ex Liverpool players on every UK TV channel. Their delusion and desperation is a welcome tonic to any Tottenham toil.

Finishing above Chelsea: If an Arsenal collapse seems unlikely, I’m not quite sure what would have to be going on at Chelsea. But boy would it be sweet.

More superstars: A slightly different vibe, but I just wonder if some Spurs fans would be prepared to swallow a bit more rebuilding if it meant the continuing development of our young stars. I’ve written about how I think Nabil Bentaleb is set to take it to the next level, but in the likes of Dele Alli, Alex Pritchard and Josh Onomah, there is every chance we are going to see some serious talent blossoming this season. It feels like Daniel Levy, after years of being the itchiest trigger in the business, is finally settling down to some long-term thinking in terms of building up a team for the new stadium in a couple of years. So perhaps fans will buy into that too. All I would say is, that perspective will be hard to find after the miserable post-Europa home defeats we all know are coming. And measuring sufficient development is hard, and impossible to call between what is success and what isn’t quite success.

So, what would I consider a successful season?

I just fear that this season, the Top Four are ahead by an absolute chasm. I don’t see how Spurs can possibly catch them unless we pull some rabbits out of the hat in the final weeks of the transfer window. I don’t think this is just my pessimism — the Top Four just look absolutely stacked and there is still time to fill the odd hole in their squads. It also feels like, given the massive new TV deal kicking in and the amount being spent by clubs lower down the league, the gap between Spurs and rest is shrinking.

For the first time in quite a few seasons, I’m genuinely starting the season without thinking: “This will be our year”. Next year? Maybe, but this season could be really tough.

Oddly, I’d take the same this season as we achieved last season: Fifth place, a decent cup run, and a couple more feel-good moments from Harry Kane.

Is that too negative, or should we just be realistic about what constitutes success, meaning we are more likely to actually achieve it?