Tag Archives: Harry Kane

Tom Carroll, the last of the loan rangers

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With Tom Carroll’s departure to Swansea, an era of sorts comes to an end for Spurs.

Carroll was the last of a generation of homegrown youngsters whose development was largely outsourced to clubs in lower divisions. Now, only one remains at the club — in fairness, he’s not a bad player to have sticking around.

The “loan rangers” may ultimately have failed to make the grade at Spurs, but the ability to secure multimillion pound fees for homegrown talent is a testament to the club’s ability to produce footballers of value.

There is life after White Hart Lane, and it is a source of pride that few clubs — perhaps only Manchester United — can match Spurs in sheer numbers of graduates finding gainful employment in the professional game.

Since the 2011/12 season, Spurs have sold seven former academy stars for seven-figure sums:

Tom Carroll — £4.5m
Alex Pritchard — £8m
Ryan Mason — £13m
Andros Townsend — £12m
Jake Livermore — £8m
Steven Caulker — £8m
Jamie O’Hara — £5m

The combined total? £58.5m. That’s a remarkable return on the annual investment made in the academy (I don’t know the figure and would welcome any information). By way of comparison, Hotspur Way cost around £30m to build.

This ability to secure sizeable fees for youngsters has helped Spurs defy gravity while revenues have soared at other clubs, not that Spurs have necessarily spent the money well.

All them spent prolonged periods of their early careers on loan — these seven players had a combined 38 loan spells. For better or worse, these journeys through lower divisions helped shape who they became.

The Championship in particular is a tough proving ground, and strong performances by youngsters in that division will see their values soar. Does it necessarily make them better players? That’s another debate — and Mauricio Pochettino’s policy of keeping prime youngsters in house suggests he feels that it is not.

At the moment, Spurs have just one youngster on loan to a Championship side — Will Miller at Burton Albion. Luke McGee is (from what I’ve read at least) impressing at Peterborough in League One, while Ryan Loft has joined Stevenage in League Two. The other loans are the flotsam — Fede Fazio (who’s actually doing very well at Roma), Nabil Bentaleb (he’s also doing well at Schalke), and Clinton N’Jie.

The excellent @thfcacademy reported recently that Kyle Walker-Peters, the young right-back, will be brought into the first-team squad — and he made the bench for the FA Cup tie vs Aston Villa. A loan to League One has long been rumoured with clubs interested, but for the moment he’s not going anywhere. Both Cameron Carter-VIckers and Josh Onomah have played precious little football this season, but there are no indications that Pochettino is considering sending them out for the second half of the season to find regular playing time.

As Harry Winks has shown with his excellent displays this season, Pochettino’s approach can bear fruit. The point of the academy is to produce Spurs players, not act as an ATM. But for the club’s beancounters, the loan system has proven highly lucrative, and may be missed.

Of course, Spurs have shown that there are other ways to skin the cat. Wandering European youngsters such as Iago Falque and Nabil Bentaleb found homes in the Spurs academy, and departed for huge fees — Spurs netted a reported £5m million for Falque, and Schalke will pay a reported £17m for Bentaleb once he hits the required number of games (he’s played 21 so far, so he’s well on his way).

But for the likes of Carroll, Mason (a player I was immensely fond of) and Townsend, it was never about money so much as about playing for Spurs. They had their chances — aside from Pritchard — but couldn’t quite seize them. Sometimes you need to pinch yourself to believe Harry Kane is real — he’s a once in a generation blessing for Spurs, the type of “one of our own” hero that every set of supporters craves. The departure of so many other contemporaries highlights what a glorious exception to the rule he is.

For Carroll, Swansea is a chance to jump-start a career that has shown flashes but must have become deeply frustrating. Swansea seems a good fit — a club, likely to be playing Championship football next season, needing ball players to reconnect with a footballing philosophy lost amid the grotesque riches of the Premier League. There’s talent there, but evident shortcomings. £4.5m plus add-ons is about right.

But if he feels discouraged, he only needs to look at the opposition and the odds are there is a Spurs youngster in there, defying the “reject” label and making the most of their career. Dean Marney is still playing in the Premier League, so are Adam Smith and Charlie Daniels; Kevin Stewart has come remarkably close to proving Spurs wrong at Liverpool; the likes of Jordan Archer, Grant Ward and Massimo Luongo are all playing regularly in the Championship or League One.

Good luck at Swansea, Tommy C.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

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The power of incentives and why Spurs are finally in a position to achieve success

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Over the interminable international break, I’ve been thinking a lot about two things — Spurs and politics.

In politics, I’ve been following the US election avidly and trying to understand why, despite everything we are learning each day, tens of millions of perfectly sane and patriotic Americans will vote for Donald Trump on November 8th.

For Spurs, I’ve been thinking about the success the club is currently experiencing, and trying to understand if there is some deeper explanation than merely an outbreak of managerial competence and a couple of decent signings.

In these two divergent trains of thought, strangely, I’ve found myself coming back to a similar place: the importance of incentives, both good and bad, in shaping outcomes and behaviour.

To a neutral observer (at least as neutral as anyone can be given the impact the US president has on the whole world), Trump’s rise has been baffling. Trump appears to be a sociopathic, predatory conman whose hiding-in-plain-sight brazenness and questionable sexual history has more than a shade of the Jimmy Saville about it. His evident emotional, intellectual and political shortcomings threaten a dangerously volatile presidency, and this could have all manner of devastating consequences given the power of the office (like, you know, commanding the US armed forces).

However, if you’ve spent the past eight years and more watching Fox News and listening to US talk radio, it will have seeped into your subconscious that America is changing for the worse, you are the main loser from that change, and that the current political establishment, embodied by one Hillary Clinton, is creating that change. I’m generalising of course, but you can see the incentive is now there to vote Trump: If you believe the current system is the problem, you have the incentive to vote for the one guy who appears to be from outside it and is talking very loudly about destroying it.

The rest — the ability to ignore facts about Trump and believe lies told by Trump — is an unparalleled epidemic of cognitive dissonance, and will be studied by psychologists and political scientists for generations to come should, as the polls suggest, Clinton limp pathetically to victory.

If that’s an example of a “bad” incentive — although philosophically speaking an incentive is just an incentive, immune to such subjective labelling — then Spurs currently are an example of the “good”.

Arguably the most famous example of incentives in football is the other lot. For years, Arsene Wenger has been told to deliver a Top 4 finish and Champions League football, and been strongly incentivized to do so through ongoing employment on increasingly lucrative terms. Arsenal fans no doubt wonder, if Wenger had been incentivized to win a title — through either the offer of more money or the threat of the sack — he may have done more to seriously challenge for the title in the past dozen or so seasons.

Chelsea are another example of how incentives can have a fundamental impact on a football club. Despite investing millions and being a dominant force in youth football, Chelsea have failed to see an academy graduate (barring the expensive Matic outlier) given an extended run in the first team since John Terry. The problem has been that a succession of managers have been so concerned about satisfying Roman Abramovich’s thirst for trophies that none has been able to risk the inevitable ups and downs that come with blooding young players.

In North London (yeah, take that, any Arsenal fans who read this), Spurs have been having some incentive problems of their own through the ENIC era. Specifically, the “buy-low, sell-high” business model that powered Spurs up from the middle of the Premier League pack to the “best of the rest” may have inadvertently created the incentives that prevented the club from taking the next step.

Think of that giddy time when Gareth Bale was beginning his metamorphosis, or Luka Modric was making Harry Redknapp’s team hum in central midfield, or Dimitar Berbatov was oozing class up front. There was always that fear we had as fans: “If he keeps playing this well, we’ll never be able to keep him.”

And this wasn’t mere pessimistic terrace talk — this was simply a statement of fact, given the financial model of the club at the time. This model created perverse incentives — success in player development and coaching could mean instability and the loss of key players, and what could be a step forward in fact turned into a step back. Little wonder, then, the club churned through a succession of managers.

The debacle that was the post-Bale reboot brought into full view the flaws of this strategy. The vision for how the club was supposed to be run hasn’t changed on a strategic level since Daniel Levy decided to move on from Harry Redknapp: an ambitious young manager committed to playing dynamic football and running the club in a modern, professional way.

Andre Villas-Boas, for all his personal shortcomings, was hamstrung by conflicting incentives and objectives: he had to sell his star player, yet somehow mould a collection of cheap replacements into a winning team without a sustained dip in performance. There were many reasons that AVB failed, but the incentives were never right.

I’m pretty sure that AVB was supposed to become what Mauricio Pochettino is now, but for Pochettino the incentives now are perfect.

He is charged with building a team that is greater than the sum of the parts, without the need to sell key players but accepting as a consequence that there are limited funds to acquire new ones. Instead of trying to compete with the moneybags clubs in the transfer market, Spurs are forced to do things in a different way, and are benefitting from doing so through squad unity and a vibrancy other clubs lack. Pochettino and the club have every incentive to develop young homegrown talent, especially since Harry Kane has shown how worthwhile it can be. Crucially, with no need to sell, there is no upper limit now on what can be achieved — when Pochettino talks about building the “project” and competing for titles, he means it, because that is the aim.

No doubt the club’s ability to resist cashing in on star players will be tested in years to come. But curiously, the new stadium, while hindering the ability to spend, creates a further incentive not to sell.

Spurs will be borrowing a lot of money to build the stadium, but the success of the investment ultimately rests on selling the 25,000 extra tickets each match and filling the lush new hospitality areas. This will be much easier with a successful and appealing team — as the ability of the club to sell out Wembley against three deeply uninspiring Champions League opponents this season attests. Spurs, therefore, have every incentive to keep Kane, Dele Alli and so on, no matter how easy Manchester United fans seem to think it will be to eventually tempt them away.

There are many reasons why I’m excited about Spurs at the moment, and there are many explanations about why the club is now moving forward even at a time it is increasingly financially disadvantaged compared to cash-rich rivals. This isn’t to take away credit from the remarkable job that Pochettino is doing, and the contrast with AVB is stark. Pochettino has immense sway at Hotspur Way now — a strong manager has the power to shape incentives.

A lot of things have to go right for a football club to succeed, but if the incentives aren’t right, change is just going round and round in a circle.

Think of the current team, if the old problem of selling star players reared its head again. Instead of building a single, ongoing project, Pochettino would be facing the challenge of replacing departing talent with cheaper, younger alternatives. You can’t defy footballing gravity forever, and Pochettino wouldn’t have the incentive to risk this damage to his reputation. Eventually he’d would walk away, reputation enhanced, like he did at Southampton (or, if he left it too late, leave sacked and heading back down the managerial pyramid, like most of his predecessors at Spurs).

There are many ways to describe the state of affairs at Spurs currently, but when we talk about stars aligning, virtuous circles, everyone pushing in the same direction or whatever expression it is (i’ve used a fair few…), key to it all is that the incentives are right.

Long may it continue.

And now, having written all that, I’m off to put a fiver on Trump to beat Clinton and West Brom to beat Spurs on Saturday.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

The Pochettino Revolution: How Tottenham were transformed from also-rans to title contenders

By Charles Richards/@spurs_report

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Sky Sports, via Google Images

As a Spurs fan, you can pick your nadir.

Maybe it was Lasagne-gate, or the night when Chelsea snatched our hard-earned Champions League spot in 2012. Perhaps it was the sight of Arsenal celebrating the league title on the pitch at White Hart Lane, Sol Campbell among them. For some the pain predates the Premier League era, while for others each new misstep supersedes the last and it is the final-day faceplant against Newcastle in May that stings more than anything.

For me, rock bottom came on March 8, 2014:

Chelsea 4 Tottenham 0.

I had some things going on in my life at that time, and more than ever before or since, I needed my team. I needed that temporary uplift, that two hours of escape, that feeling of togetherness that a good Spurs performance brings. Instead, I witnessed one of the most abysmal displays in recent memory.

The BBC summed up the shambles in its match report:

“Spurs fell behind to Eto’o’s 56th-minute strike, which came after Jan Vertonghen’s slip and aimless pass, before more mistakes – from Sandro and Kyle Walker – led to Chelsea’s third and fourth goals at the death. Chelsea’s second came from Hazard’s penalty after Younes Kaboul fouled Eto’o, a challenge that also saw the French defender sent off.”

That Tim Sherwood, parachuted into his first managerial role mid-campaign, was out of his depth tactically was already clear. But as he appeared before the TV cameras and lambasted the players, it was becoming evident that he wasn’t psychologically suited to the task either. It wasn’t what he said — the performance was gutless, the squad did have players who didn’t care — but rather the way that he said it. As he lost control, he lashed out; his attitude appeared to be, “If I’m going down, I’m taking you down with me.” There was a real risk that his interim appointment could cause lasting damage, and the few positive legacies from the lean preceding years, such as Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen, would seek a departure as the club stumbled blindly into the next false dawn.

Spurs as a club wasn’t just fractured, it was broken. Daniel Levy’s schizophrenic switching between “continental” and “English” strategies had gone into overdrive, bordering on parody, with the transition from the “Emperor’s New Clothes” vacuity of Andre Villas-Boas and Franco Baldini to the cartoonish footballing provincialism of Sherwood.

When Levy, rebuffed by Louis van Gaal, turned to Mauricio Pochettino in May of 2014, this was an appointment that simply had to work. The club’s “best of the rest” status, that ambition of Champions League football that could be sold to potential recruits even if it wasn’t quite achieved, was threatened as Spurs drifted back towards the mid-table pack. The stadium project was stalled, while the new training ground was an expensive new facility that no-one appeared to know how to make the most out of, like an iPad only used for playing Angry Birds.

I don’t think, in hindsight, we can overestimate the scale of the job that faced Pochettino when he first joined. Aged 42 and with little more than five years of managerial experience, he became the 10th Spurs manager in 12 years on the strength of a hugely impressive, if low-pressure, spell at Southampton.

Two years on, Spurs are back in the Champions League, playing vibrant football, and have a young and united squad with a strong homegrown core. The success appears sustainable, and I can’t recall ever feeling that the future was so bright. Only the most attention-seeking of contrarians will argue that Pochettino hasn’t succeeded in every respect.

Which begs the question, how on earth has Pochettino prospered where so many of his predecessors have failed?

Heading into the Argentine’s third season in charge of Tottenham, now is the perfect time to look back at what Pochettino has achieved, and the work that still needs to be done.

 

The Kaboul Cabal and a dressing room revolt

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For the first 11 league games of Pochettino’s tenure, it had all the hallmarks of another trademark Tottenham false dawn.

Eric Dier’s late winner against West Ham and a thrashing of QPR raised expectations, only for a crushing defeat by Liverpool to send Spurs back down to earth. A point at the Emirates was fine, another inept thrashing at the Etihad a sign that nothing had really changed.

The real problems occurred once the Europa League campaign kicked in, and those early Sunday kick-offs at White Hart Lane, fans and players equally unenthusiastic, returned. First was a narrow defeat to West Brom, which happens, then a farcical defeat to Newcastle in which Alan Pardew’s side scored seven seconds into the second half, which really shouldn’t. When Stoke went 2-0 up within 33 minutes on November 9, with Spurs devoid of ideas and any clue how to defend, for the first time the atmosphere turned mutinous.

There’s a story, which I heard from THST Co-Chair Martin Cloake on The Tottenham Way podcast, about the Spurs dressing room after the Stoke match. Returning down the tunnel, the boos ringing out after a 2-1 home defeat, it was business as usual for the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor. At this point, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason stood up and took control, informing the dressing room that this wasn’t acceptable. There was a rebellion, and Pochettino needed to decide who to back.

This match would prove to be a watershed, above all in Pochettino’s understanding of his squad’s willingness and ability to carry out his instructions. Adebayor, who didn’t care, was cast aside, as were the likes of Kaboul and Etienne Capoue, after being deemed inadequate technically and tactically. The “Kaboul Cabal” was born — even if the term was harsh on Kaboul himself, a committed player for whom injury rather than attitude had been the (primary) downfall.

Others would find themselves pushed to the sidelines. Aaron Lennon, the club’s longest serving player, was a walking, talking (and rarely playing) version of the “needs a new challenge” cliche. By February he’d be at Everton on loan. Paulinho continued to appear, occasionally and never effectively, while Roberto Soldado’s crisis of confidence deepened. New signings like Federico Fazio and Benji Stambouli were evidently sub-standard. In their place, the young guns led by Kane, starting to embark on his rise to national prominence, would be given their chance.

In hindsight, Pochettino’s biggest achievement at Spurs may have been surviving his first season. He inherited an unmotivated, fractious and poorly assembled squad, but one that was expensive enough to raise expectations. Ditching the “Kaboul Cabal” was the right move, as was turning to the likes of Kane, Mason and Nabil Bentaleb. But there was also an element of luck that these players were able to step up. Was it good management, or just good fortune?

This “lucky vs good” question would be an issue through the 2014/15 season. All those late Eriksen or Kane winners that kept the campaign afloat — was that the mark of enhanced fitness stemming from superior training methods, or just the rub of the green? The Pochettino pressing game wasn’t just poorly executed, it was positively dangerous, with Spurs shipping 53 goals. Southampton conceded just 33, yet we finished fifth while they finished 7th.

If the dismal Stoke defeat was one milepost, another would come on New Year’s Day against Chelsea. For the first time, Spurs fans witnessed the sort of performance that we’d allowed ourselves to dream about in the most optimistic moments when Pochettino was appointed. A young Spurs side descending on Chelsea’s league leaders like a pack of wolves, ripping them apart and scoring five.

For many fans, this was seen as a turning point, the moment when the Pochettino project found its feet and the club kicked into the next gear. But perception is a funny thing, especially when it comes to gauging success. Even though we all felt that performances were finally improving, and revelled in the thought that a brighter future was starting to take shape, actually results didn’t really improve much. In the 19 games before we played Chelsea, we averaged 1.63 points per game, in the 18 games after we averaged 1.66. The reality was Spurs were playing a bit better, had one or two excellent performances (notably against Arsenal), but were still a flawed unit with huge holes in the squad (and in the defence).

Ultimately, Pochettino did enough in his first season. Spurs got enough points, there was enough hope about the future, enough signs that his methods were working, enough understanding that a lot of the failures could be laid at Baldini or Levy’s doors. But going into 2015/16 there were precious few hints of what was going to come.

“I hear people say stuff about Tottenham and I don’t like it”

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After a familiar slow start to Pochettino’s second campaign in charge, and a frustrating summer where key areas of the squad (central midfield and striker) were not strengthened, it soon became clear that something was happening at Spurs.

It wasn’t like the previous season, where, rightly or not, the 5-3 win over Chelsea could be seen as a visible turning point. Instead, after there was a steady drip of events, information, quotes and social media buzz that pointed to a more positive dynamic emerging.

After losing narrowly at Old Trafford, Spurs were unbeaten for the next fourteen games. The defence was miserly, and for the first time in years we had a proper central defensive partnership in Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. In front of them, Eric Dier was starting to demonstrate that he was much more than a centre-back slotted into midfield due to a shortage of options. Dele Alli was proving that the impish nutmeg of Luka Modric in pre-season really was the precursor to greater success that we’d hoped for. Even Erik Lamela, so lost in his first two years and nearly shipped out on loan to Marseille, was starting to get it. Harry Kane, after a slow start, rediscovered his shooting boots.

Above all, the penny had appeared to drop about the type of play Pochettino wanted. The pressing was notably better, the way the centre backs split and the fullbacks zoomed forward was smoother than a Swiss watch, while Dele Alli’s ability to get beyond defences unlocked space for Eriksen and Kane. The passing became crisper, the ball and players fizzing around menacingly.

After his first season, Pochettino diagnosed two primary problems with the squad he inherited. First, there were the players who weren’t up to it, for a variety of reasons; second, the squad was simply too big. It was counterintuitive, given how widely accepted has become the Mourinho doctrine of two quality players in each position, and how Spurs have struggled with Europa League demands in the past. But Pochettino wanted a more united and cohesive squad, and placed faith in the quality of his fitness work and injury prevention record to withstand the rigours of the schedule.

“Character” is a tainted word in football, thanks to the Proper Football Men’s overuse of the word to describe a myriad of situations and problems. But anyone who has followed Spurs in the past two years will agree that a greater emphasis has been placed on identifying the “right” sort of player. Call it character, mentality, psychology, attitude or personality, the dressing room at Spurs hasn’t come together by accident. Pochettino and has staff have created an atmosphere of hard work and common purpose, and on the recruitment side, more attention has been paid to finding players who buy into this.

There were softer touches too. The club invested in improved social media over the summer of 2015, bringing in The Times journalist Henry Winter to advise players on how to communicate. Unlike other clubs, the players were always on message, but nonetheless it felt natural and not contrived PR fluff. The Dier-Alli bromance blossomed, photos of the squad eating together were shared, a mid-season trip to Barcelona was a roaring success, and created an impression of harmony. Even Pochettino and his staff got in on the act, larking about on a jog around Baku before the match against FC Qarabag, brightening what could have been a long and boring trip. The players genuinely seem to get along, and be happy at Spurs.

In previous years, the leaks out of Hotspur Way were negative, the internal politics spilling out into the open and undermining the attempts at unity from whichever manager happened to be in charge at the time. Gone were the stories about strikers falling out with managers over beanie hats and and transfer blame games, now it was all positive — little vignettes such as the players all joining in board games, shooting competitions after training, the tough fitness work seen as a badge of honour, not a cause for complaint.

This shift in mentality, the new toughness and determination emanating from the camp, was summed up by Eric Dier after Spurs thumped Man City at White Hart Lane:

“I don’t think we get the credit we deserve. We are an extremely young squad. I hear people saying stuff about Tottenham and I don’t like it. I don’t think the other boys like it either.”

I hate it, but the term “Spursy” was coined for a reason — too many sloppy goals, weak performances, decades of prioritizing style over substance. “Spursy” became a catch-all term to explain how it felt for success — however you cared to define it — always being just out of reach. We were Charlie Brown, trying to kick the football, and maybe, just maybe, things were starting to change.

Gary Neville, before embarking on an annus horribilis that would see his reputation in tatters, declared Pochettino his favourite manager in the league. “There is not one negative word I could use,” Neville said of the Argentine’s work. “There is nothing I dislike.”

A lot has gone right at Spurs in the last two years. Recruitment has improved with the arrival of Paul Mitchell and Rob MacKenzie, the return of Ian Broomfield and (unofficially) David Pleat, and much-needed investment in the scouting network. Assistant manager Jesus Perez is a sports scientist, and the standard of physical training (and injury prevention) has improved remarkably. A pathway for youngsters fostered by academy guru John McDermott has been established.

Perhaps most important is the relationship between Pochettino and Levy. In his rare media or public outings such as the Q&A with fans last year, the chairman has appeared unusually relaxed. He even undertook the “Ice Bucket Challenge” — remember that? — although the two players who soaked him didn’t last long. Pochettino revealed he’d watched one of the Leicester games at his house with Levy in last season’s title run-in.

It seems, more than anything, like Levy has finally “found his guy” — a manager who offers middle ground between the continental and the English styles. Levy is able to focus on non-football things — things that arguably he is far better at — such as the stadium project and other property ventures, as well as the money side. There is a balance of responsibilities and a structure that has previously been lacking at the club. Pochettino’s title change from head coach to manager reflects the extent to which he rules the roost at Hotspur Way, and the trust he has earned from a chairman with a reputation for micro-management.

It isn’t all handshakes and hugs at Hotspur Way either. Pochettino has shown he can be tough, and will treat expensive imports and homegrown talent equally firmly if the situation requires. When Andros Townsend threw a tantrum during a warm-down after the match against Aston Villa, Pochettino’s response was swift and firm: “When you behave in the wrong way, you have to pay.” Townsend was suspended, and left the club a few months later.

According to Toby Alderweireld, the key change under Pochettino was the team spirit: there were “no longer any heroes” in the Spurs team.

“When one makes a mistake, the other one picks it up. We have a togetherness. We want to achieve something this season and I think you can see that on the pitch. There is confidence and self belief — not arrogance — that we can beat everybody. We know that if we don’t put the effort in, we are a normal team.

“He [Pochettino] only puts in guys who work very hard. A lot of guys have left the club. If you do not follow the path, you don’t belong in Tottenham.”

Pochettino doesn’t seek credit, and when he signed his new contract, he made sure his team of coaches were signed up too. But, undoubtedly, when looking at the progress made by Spurs in the past 24 months, the Argentine is the common denominator.

“When your face isn’t smiling, your feet aren’t smiling”

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Pochettino doesn’t court publicity and he keeps his opinions to himself. There are no mind games, no taking of the bait, and rarely any insight into how he goes about his business.

On a personal level, two years on, we know practically nothing about him. We know Pochettino works incredibly hard — arriving at Hotspur Way very early and leaving very late. We know his son Maurizio is in the youth set-up. We know nothing about Mrs Pochettino — beyond the fact she thought he’d put on some weight last season forcing him to spend time on the treadmill over lunch. We know he insists on organic meat. We know Marcelo Bielsa is the dominant influence, from the day El Loco signed Pochettino up on the strength of his legs.

The contrast with Jose Mourinho, whose PR blitz for the Manchester United job would have made Kim Kardashian blush, couldn’t be starker.

The lack of soundbites and storylines from Hotspur Way frustrates journalists covering the team, and there have been communication problems with fans. Comments appearing to de-emphasize the importance of finishing above Arsenal last season, while reasonable, did not come out quite as intended and added to the frustration of slipping down to third.

We have rarely seen Pochettino flustered. About the only time last season was after comments about him wanting to manage his former club PSG in the future, again reasonable, emerged and took on a life of their own. His subsequent announcement that he had agreed a new deal with Spurs seemed impromptu. The sense above all is that he sees media duties as an obligation, not an opportunity. Because of his still-limited English, it is the one part of his fiefdom where he doesn’t have the degree of control that he would like.

But despite this, we all know what the Pochettino mantra is. Performance in training is crucial, fitness is paramount, the process of improving mentally is continual. Homegrown talent must be given the same opportunities as expensive imports, players are treated like adults and expected to behave as such. The sum of the parts must never be greater than the whole.

Over the busy Christmas period in 2014 and with three days before the next match, Pochettino was asked by a TV reporter if his plan was to “rest, rest and rest.” He replied, quick as a flash and with a smile, “No. Train, train, train.” Not every footballer will like this approach, and those thinking of joining Spurs will know exactly what is in store. It’s like the Spartans leaving out their newborn boys — it filters out the weak.

Rare insight into the way Pochettino works was given by John McDermott in a talk in California that was transcribed and posted on Reddit.

McDermott revealed that he spent several hours a day working with Pochettino. He considered Pochettino by far the best manager he had worked with, and described him as the “best strategist in terms of how he got the club working.”

“Pochettino is a leader of people, a very warm, Latin, touchy feely man, he has got something about him, an X factor. If you took Pochettino from Tottenham right now, they would not be half as successful. Pochettino will often say something doesn’t ‘feel’ right, he uses his intuition. For example, (he said to) Bentaleb, ‘When your face is not smiling, your feet are not smiling’. It is an intuition allied with statistics.”

For McDermott, who has spent years trying to work with Spurs managers, some of whom have shown no interest in the young talent he is developing, he now has a very different problem keeping him awake at night.

“How do I make sure our academy keeps up with Pochettino? He has taken it to another level.”

“We are ready to compete against any team”

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I have always thought captaincy is a good indication of the health of a squad. When a squad seems united, potential captains, vice-captains and future captains abound. When a squad seems short on “character” — perhaps Man United in recent years — there appear few, if any, choices.

If Pochettino could have one mulligan from his time at Spurs, it would be appointing Kaboul as captain and Adebayor as vice-captain. In hindsight, it was a horrible decision, but it was also an indicator of the extent to which the lunatics had taken over the asylum. The artful way that Pochettino buried the likes of Kaboul and Adebayor for the rest of the campaign was testament to his man management skills and the way a previously leaky club was starting to tighten up.

Now, you could happily see any of Alderweireld, Danny Rose and Dier joining Lloris, Vertonghen and Kane among the Spurs leadership group.

No-one speaks in more positive tones of Pochettino than Lloris. The France and Spurs captain revealed to the Guardian not only how close he had coming to leaving the club, but also how immediate Pochettino’s impact was.

“I had some concern and I question a bit myself two years ago, after AVB and Tim Sherwood were in charge. I think the first meeting with Mauricio Pochettino was very clear for me, for my future. I think I trust him since the first second I meet him, and because I understand what he wants, fully agree about his football view. I can say we have the same football view and he’s brought a lot to the team and the players.”

“The credit is for the gaffer. I think he changed all, inside the training ground, inside the squad, it’s about his mentality, his personality. We can feel we improved a lot. We have a real identity now and, from outside, it’s very clear. We try to play good football but don’t forget that we need to be aggressive, especially in the Premier League.”

“If you’re not aggressive, it’s difficult to be competitive and so if you have a good philosophy of football, you add aggression, hunger, because of course we are young but we can feel the team is very hungry. It means a lot for me. It’s about competitive mentality. Now we can feel we are competitive, and ready to compete against any team.”

“We show this season a lot of character. Of course, it will be interesting what will happen next season but I think in the way we work, we are improving every month so it’s not about this season. It’s also about the next season and the project of the gaffer.”

Mentality. Hunger. Aggression. Project. These are the new buzzwords at Hotspur Way.

For decades, I feel we’ve misunderstood what Bill Nicholson was trying to tell us when he said “It’s no use just winning, we’ve got to win well.” For Nicholson, the winning part was assumed. In the Premier League era, Spurs have been so fixated on winning well that we’ve forgotten to win.

It turns out, winning matches and competing for the title is far more entertaining than playing pretty football and finishing 10th. We can add the flourishes in years to come, but first of all we must win.

I still believe the most exhilarating football that I have seen from a Spurs team in the Premier League era was for a short spell under Harry Redknapp. Gareth Bale was metamorphosing in front of our eyes from unlucky left back to world-class winger, leaving Aaron Lennon free on the other flank. With Luka Modric pulling the strings, the ball always seemed to find the right man.

Redknapp secured two top-four finishes, which sometimes gets forgotten, but his was a flame that burned brightly and then faded. Redknapp — you could imagine Levy cringing in embarrassment whenever the car window got wound down on transfer deadline day — carried so much baggage he needed a roof rack. Redknapp turned Spurs around, and history will judge him as a successful Spurs manager once his tiresome self-promotion fades, but it was never clear that he was able to put in the foundations for longer-term success.

At its best, the defining characteristic of Pochettino’s football has been the intensity, rather than the swagger.

There have been spells, usually in the biggest matches, when we’ve torn the opposition to shreds. Against Manchester United last season, once Spurs had the breakthrough, we savaged them. Likewise in the second half against Arsenal in 2014/15 when Harry Kane scored twice.

But to me, the peak Pochettino performance — not in result but in the manner it represented what the Argentine has been able to change in his two years in charge — came against Manchester City at the Etihad in February.

Manchester City, embarrassed by a thrashing at home to Leicester the previous weekend, were desperate to bounce back. An inconsistent team even before Manuel Pellegrini’s regime began to run out of steam, they were fired up against Spurs. For 80 minutes, Spurs absorbed City’s blows and got a few in of their own. Aguero buzzed around like a hornet and Yaya Toure strode forward like he used to in his prime, none of the old-man shuffling that was seen so often last campaign.

In the 81st minute, score 1-1, four Spurs players surrounded Toure like muggers in a dark alley, stealing first the ball, then the three points. Pochettino celebrated like we’d not seen before, because he must have known that this was not only a huge moment in the title race, but also a vindication of his methods. All that hard work on fitness and mentality, the drilling of the press so tired players could still execute it effectively late in a top-of-the-table clash, had come to fruition.

It was the clearest indication that the plan was working, even if Spurs would eventually come up just short.

“Going down like Tony Montana”

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Ultimately, while the match at the Etihad would be a high-water mark, the match that will be remembered last season is the Battle of the Bridge. It showed how far Spurs had come, but also the room for further growth.

Fans of other clubs say Spurs bottled it, ignoring with standard footballing myopia that Spurs were still in the title race with three games to go, unlike everyone else. Some Spurs fans were critical of the performance, considering the aggression unattractive and indicative of a team that had lost its head.

Comparing Spurs’ disappointment to Manchester City’s limp defeat against Real Madrid, the (brilliant) Rob Smyth wrote one of those pieces which seemed to capture my every thought at the time:

“Spurs and Manchester City both missed out on major prizes this week; one went down like Tony Montana, the other closed the door quietly behind them. As a neutral or a fan, what would you rather watch? … Spurs stood up to Chelsea in a way that would never have happened in the past, and that burst of aggression is intrinsically linked to other qualities that make this the best Spurs side in decades. It is almost impossible for a team to excel in the Premier League without those qualities. In their darkest hour, Spurs looked like winners.

“If that happened every week it would be an issue, but these were unique circumstances. Spurs gave a human response to crushing disappointment; as such, they deserved a bit more sympathy and a lot more empathy. They had been battling for the title all season, and saw it disappear, at a time when they were being goaded by 40,000 fans, not to mention a number of Chelsea players. What were they supposed to do, smile sweetly and take a selfie?”

I’ll view every game at Stamford Bridge through the prism of the misery of March 8, 2014. Watching Spurs go down all guns blazing made me feel proud. I can live with disappointment, I can’t live with surrender.

What the Battle of the Bridge showed, however, was that fighting and togetherness wasn’t enough. I don’t buy the argument that inexperience was the problem that night, given it was more experienced players like Mousa Dembele and Kyle Walker who lost their discipline first. When HMS Dier went into Destroyer mode, the game was already gone.

The 2-2 draw, more than the two defeats of an emotionally exhausted team that followed, highlighted what Spurs lacked, and offer the blueprint for what needs to happen next.

Spurs need better squad options when players are injured, rested or suspended. We need reliable impact players off the bench, both defensive and in attack. We need to get better at controlling games we are leading, and seeing out the close ones. When teams like Chelsea, who have world class players and who hate our guts, throw everything at us, we need to be able to withstand it better. We didn’t lose that night, even though it seemed that we did — but we needed to win.

In his first season, Pochettino got by with a makeshift central midfield of Bentaleb and Mason, who’d made a combined 24 senior appearances for Spurs before he took over. In his second season, Dele Alli and Eric Dier, combined Premier League midfield appearances zero, became first choice for club and country. Dembele, seemingly destined to see out his career at somewhere like Sunderland, finally found a way to fulfil the potential he’d flashed for the past ten years.

Can you imagine what Spurs will be capable of as the quality of the squad improves, with a squad that is a year older and a year wiser, and motivated by the anger of how the season ended? There are still a thousand things that can go wrong, not least given the unprecedented arms racing taking place among the big-money Premier League rivals while Spurs are forced to cut the cloth more conservatively while the stadium is financed. But optimism is no cause for embarrassment.

I wrote last season that Pochettino has an opportunity to build a dynasty at Spurs, and what encourages me more than anything is that he knows it too.

“When you compare Tottenham with big sides people can see our approach is for the long term. We have the youngest squad in the Premier League yet here we are fighting for the title. The project is fantastic, because we are ahead of the programme – we are only going to get better. This is true because for a lot of players this is their first season in the Premier League and next season they will be better because they will have more experience. In football you always need time to develop to your full quality.”

“It is impossible to set limits. It is also important to improve our squad because this is always our idea to improve. Our idea is to keep the main group for the next few years and to try and build and add players that can help us.”

I love the line about it being impossible to set limits. It’s going to be tough for Spurs to take that next step and win a title, but we will never have a better platform. Let season three begin of the Pochettino era begin.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

Spurs do it on a mild Monday evening in Stoke

Paul Wells  FOX HUNT

Image: Twitter…

I have watched the highlights of Stoke v Spurs on Spurs TV twice, and on The Times once for good measure, and it is fair to say I am going to watch them a few more times before the week is out.

Monday night was pure footballing heaven for a Spurs fan. I can’t recall our attacking movement being quite so fluid, and our intent so lethal. It wasn’t just the result, but the manner of the performance. The hunt is on.

Some micro-thoughts, in no particular order:

1) What must it have felt like as a Leicester player watching that? If they didn’t know they were in a race, they will now. They will be feeling pressure on Sunday, without question.

2) Mousa Dembele was outstanding. He’s had a couple of tricky games of late, reverting to sideways and backwards movement and passing. Against Stoke, everything was forward. It makes all the difference to this team.

3) Legend has it that Nicola Cortese took an interest in Mauricio Pochettino because of his touchline demeanour. It was in full evidence at the Britannia, as a pumped-up Pochettino prowled the touchline and transmitted his hunger to the team. This guy WANTS it. Admittedly, it all got a bit Basil Fawlty after the Dele Alli miss — but that’s the price you pay for passion.

4) Harry Kane never lets a missed chance get him down, such as when he made a mess of an opportunity in the early stages after a poor first touch. Within minutes, he’d made amends. This ability to “forget” misses and treat every chance the same is invaluable. Who does it remind me of? Jermain Defoe. You wonder if Jermain’s mentality rubbed off on a young Kane.

5) Why were Stoke fans booing Danny Rose? As far as I’m aware, he’s never had his leg broken by Ryan Shawcross, or nearly broken by Charlie Adam. Rose responded with a marauding fullback performance, that would thrill Roy Hodgson as much as Pochettino.

6) The narrative around Erik Lamela has finally reached tipping point — his workrate and toughness is widely acknowledged, as is knack of performing in “big” matches. He was an attacking menace last night, and Stoke had no answer to him.

7) Christian Eriksen had a blip in mid-season, but he is on top form now. His assists against Man Utd and Stoke were things of beauty — he had a picture of the play in his head, and the technical skill to execute the passes to perfection.

8) Toby Alderweireld responded to his PFA “snub” with another rock-solid performance. We’ve not seen decision-making of this calibre from a Spurs defender since Ledley King in his prime. It was summed up when Stoke attacked in the first half and Jan Vertonghen drifted slightly out of position as a cross came in, leaving Toby with a 2 on 1 situation at the back post. He wasn’t distracted by the potential overload, and instead made sure he did the simple thing — reach the ball first and get it to safety. This doesn’t win you PFA awards, but it does win you football matches.

9) Before the match, Pochettino revealed that he’d spent Sunday with Daniel Levy watching the Leicester match with a bottle of red wine. This is a club in harmony — a far cry from the House of Cards style political snakepit it has reportedly been under previous regimes. Long may it continue.

10) Sky Sports had Cesc Fabregas as its guest on Monday Night Football, and it is fair to say it didn’t work. He was eloquent, but had little of relevance to say on the title race, beyond his honest admission that he’d hate Spurs to win. Jamie Carragher, on the other hand, was outstanding. His defence of Jon Moss was passioned and backed with strong evidence. After the match he hit on the truth of this Spurs team — this isn’t a “fluke” title challenge as some thought, Spurs could be good for many years to come.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat. Note, I’ve changed the credit for the image to a more generic “Twitter”.

New Spurs stadium the “front-runner for an NFL franchise”: Q&A with Sky Sports presenter Neil Reynolds

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Of all the aspects about the new Spurs stadium scheme that interest me most, it is the NFL connection. I’ve written extensively about it: just why on earth are Spurs, a club with no knowledge or experience of American football, going to considerable effort and expense to install NFL facilities in the new stadium?

Since publishing my last piece, there has been a steady stream of news underlining the effort the NFL is making towards international expansion. Just this week, it was reported that the NFL is seeking to take games to Germany and China in the coming years. At the annual meeting of NFL owners and powers-that-be, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked “what’s next” for the league, and said it would be a London franchise, or one in Mexico City. This is important: ultimately, the NFL is run for its owners, and Jerry Jones will be one of the people who decide when a London team happens.

On the Spurs stadium itself as an NFL venue, there hasn’t been much news of late. The stadium is still a large hole in the ground, and until it is completed we are unlikely to hear much. But I’m curious to find out more, and so decided to seek out some expert opinion.

When you are British, and you have questions about the NFL, there is only one man to ask: Neil Reynolds, Sky Sports NFL presenter and host of the Inside The Huddle podcast.

I got in touch with Neil and sent him some questions about Spurs and the NFL. And being a quality bloke, he came straight back to me with answers.

First some links: To see the stadium scheme, click here. To subscribe to the Inside the Huddle podcast, click here. My latest stadium news piece is here, and you can hear me talk about Spurs and the NFL in glorious detail on the Football and Football podcast here.

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What are you views on the new stadium Spurs are building, and how does it compare with other new NFL facilities? Does it “look” like an NFL stadium to you?

The new stadium absolutely looks like a first-class NFL facility and I think its size and design will be very attractive to the NFL, as well as the fact that Spurs are committing to giving the NFL their very own field. That shows a real commitment and desire for Tottenham Hotspur to be involved with the NFL in the long term and that is exciting.

Spurs and the NFL signed a 10-year, two-game per year arrangement. Do you think this is likely to be the extent of the hosting arrangement, or do you feel that, ultimately, the Spurs stadium is viewed as the home of an NFL franchise in London?

This is only my opinion as a reporter covering the NFL, but I think this is a partnership that is going to grow considerably over the years. As the NFL adds more games to its London schedule in the coming seasons, having multiple stadia will be useful so expect to see contests spread across Tottenham, Wembley and Twickenham.

But if we are fortunate enough to get to the point where we have an NFL franchise in London, I would expect one stadium to be used extensively in order to create a level of comfort for the players and to create some form of homefield advantage.

With Spurs offering an NFL-specific field and a capacity in the region of 60,000, I would say that venue would be the front-runner for an NFL franchise. It is certainly easier to sell out a 60,000-seat stadium eight times per year as opposed to a venue in excess of 82,000 seats.

Do you think, at this point, an NFL franchise in London is a matter of “when” not “if”? And what sort of timeline do you feel we are working on — 2022 is often is batted around. Is that realistic?

I think it is a matter of ‘when’ and the NFL will build towards that in the coming years with four, five and even six games per year being played in London. And I would say that 2022 is a very realistic time frame given the growing fan and government support, as well as outstanding stadia availability.

Momentum for the NFL in the UK continues to grow and I wrote a few years ago that I felt we would have a London franchise before a star player like Aaron Rodgers retired. Rodgers looks good for playing another six or seven years so he could end up making me look very clever on that front!

How would adding a team in London work? It is normally assumed that a team such as the Jaguars will relocate — is this the most likely scenario? Or will the NFL add an expansion team?

I personally think the talent pool would be spread too thin if the NFL added a couple more teams so had initially been leaning towards a re-location of a team like the Jaguars or the Oakland Raiders, who are having some issues in their home market at the moment.

But money talks in the NFL and if adding two more teams adds billions of dollars to the coffers, the league probably wouldn’t shy away from that. In turn, more dollars flooding into the league eventually finds its way into the pockets of the players so I would imagine them being in favour of expansion, especially as it essentially opens up an additional 106 roster spots through two new teams.

In the club’s planning documents, it was stated that Spurs may seek to secure an NFL franchise. The language was intriguing: do you think a clear relationship between a Premier League soccer club and NFL franchise makes sense from a marketing and commercial standpoint?

It would certainly help in terms of promoting the NFL in the UK and in promoting Tottenham Hotspur in the United States but I had not previously heard of such talk and I don’t think such a partnership is one hundred per cent necessary in order to secure a London NFL franchise.

How is the prospect of a London franchise viewed in the US? Is it just an inevitable next step for a league that needs to broaden its global appeal, or some sort of quixotic misadventure that frustrates many fans?

There are certainly some narrow-minded fans and media who want their game of American football to stay strictly ‘American.’ But there are also a growing number of media who recognise that the game is growing internationally and that the future of the sport – which couldn’t be more popular if it tried in the United States – is overseas.

At the end of the day, money talks and if the current NFL owners feel expanding into the UK is best for their business, they are going to do it, regardless of the blowback in the United States.

Let’s talk fan experience: a lot of Spurs fans who hadn’t previously thought about attending an NFL game will be tempted to try it out. How would you compare the experience of watching an NFL game in London, and a Premier League team?

I would say that there is not much in it in terms of noise and atmosphere, which is impressive from an NFL point of view because the league sends different teams into the London market year after year. If London had its own franchise, the passion for that team would build even more over time.

Personally, as a father of three, I think there is a much nicer family atmosphere at an NFL game and they are great days out. I have worked at every single NFL regular season game in London and have enjoyed seeing how the fans mingle without a hint of trouble or aggression. I have happily worked either in a TV studio or down on the field, knowing my entire family is sitting in the stands in a perfectly safe and enjoyable environment.

I would certainly encourage Premier League fans with families to give the NFL a shot – they won’t be disappointed.

Harry Kane, star striker for Spurs and England, is a huge NFL fan. How useful is that in terms of promoting the NFL to the Spurs fanbase? And on a related note, are there any NFL players you know who are Spurs fans? So far, the only one that we know about is Tim Masthay of the Packers (and he’s a punter, which is hardly too exciting).

Punters are people too, you know! But I take your point. I don’t know of any Spurs fans but I will be asking that question as I make my rounds at NFL training camps this summer. The best I can offer is that the head of public relations for the Green Bay Packers is a big Spurs fan and maybe he can work on Aaron Rodgers!

As for Harry Kane, it’s great that he is a New England Patriots fan and can help promote the NFL to Spurs fans. I’m sure he could become a very valuable marketing tool for the NFL in the coming years.

Finally — do you have a Premier League team? Or is it oblong football for you only at this point?

I grew up marvelling at the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush and revelling in all the silverware they picked up year after year. It’s been pretty slim pickings since I was a teenager but that will serve me right for being a glory hunter as a kid… YNWA!

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Neil for taking time to answer my questions. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat, and follow Neil for NFL news.

Are Spurs fans starting to hate Arsenal less?

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In Tuesday afternoon’s Football 365 mailbox, an anonymous Arsenal fan made an unusual confession:

“I’m one of at least twenty or so Arsenal fans I know personally who are genuinely happy for Spurs – a really good club, properly run/managed, good young players, great football and with a silent majority of good fans and some fantastic players.”

The letter continued in this vain, and as I read it, it struck a chord.

I wrote about the shifting North London rivalry before the derby in November, and it seemed this fan was expressing something I’ve been feeling for a while now. Simply put: I think I’m starting to hate Arsenal less.

I know this isn’t something we are supposed to ever admit to, but I’m genuinely curious to know if any other Spurs fans think the same way.

Of course, the reflex reaction to such a suggestion will be along the lines of “fuck no, you closet Gooner” — but read what I have to say. You don’t have to acknowledge it if you don’t want to, but be honest now, deep down, are you feeling something similar too?

Now, this sentiment is suspended around North London derbies. In the words of Namond from The Wire, all Spurs fans are ready to saddle up come with it.  But I’m talking about all those other weeks, all that time spent thinking way too much about football, all those hours spent on Twitter or Reddit or actually, what’s the expression, talking to people.

We still take joy in Arsenal losing. But there is less need for this schadenfreude with our results and performances so good. It hurts when we see Arsenal above us (OK, so they aren’t at this very moment) in the table or winning things, but just a little less now it finally appears we are going places. It should be depressing seeing Arsenal landing global megastars like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, but it isn’t really as we know Arsenal fans would far rather have a Harry Kane of their own.

Part of this changing sentiment is due to our changing fortunes. But there is more to it than that. For starters, there is plenty of dislike to spread around in the Premier League as it stands today,

Take Manchester City, once a fellow traveller with an even stronger nihilistic streak than we ever had, now transformed into a vacuous global mega brand toadying to the whims of an Abu Dhabi sheikh with nothing better to occupy his money or time. Then there is Manchester United, flinging money about in grotesque fashion without an original thought in whoever is supposed to be running the club’s head.

Worse, though, are Chelsea and West Ham. Chelsea have long been odious — that dirty Russian money, Jose Mourinho setting the tone of the club either in body or in spirit, everything about John Terry. But West Ham, whose Olympic Stadium deal with the British taxpayer is the type of hardcore shafting normally reserved for Sullivan and Gold’s publishing days, are coming up hard on the rails.

The rivalries with Chelsea and West Ham have always been asymmetric — they’ve hated us more than we hate them, if only because we need to save something special for Arsenal. But now, I wonder if this is starting to change just a little.

At this point you may try to argue that part of the dynamic is that Arsenal fans lack passion — this is certainly a charge that gets leveled at them. I disagree with this assessment of Goonerism: they may lack songs, but there is still plenty of passion.

It is just that the passion is expressed in often hilarious ways. Arsenal Fan TV is unparalleled, despite the efforts of others to piggyback off it. Things like this happen when Arsenal fans appear on radio phone-in shows, repeatedly. This guy exists. Even Arsene Wenger has taken to mocking the fans over their obsession with online polls.

Can you imagine what it must be like supporting Arsenal with Piers Moron’s attention-seeking tweets reverberating around your timeline every match? You can mock Goonerism, but it is hard to hate it because it is just too funny. And it is far less offensive than what passes for banter elsewhere.

Much of the Arsenal outpourings are centered on Wenger, and as Spurs fans we can at least understand where these feelings are coming from. Where Arsenal have Wenger, we have Daniel Levy. There is something similar about these two men — such obsessives, and so blinkered, dominating their respective clubs for so long. We understand that internal conflict that Wenger creates — the frustration that he may be holding the club back, the fear of what may have happened without him. It’s a sort of footballing Stockholm Syndrome we know all too well as Spurs fans.

There are similarities between how the clubs are going about their business beyond these two individuals. Like Arsenal, Spurs are having to self-fund a vast stadium project — no taxpayer freebies for us, or vanity investment from our resident oligarch. We are both doing things the hard way off the pitch, and the right way on it with two of the most prolific academies (even if Arsenal have struggled to generate first-team calibre talent in recent years) and a commitment to attacking football. Compared to what is happening elsewhere, again it is hard to hate.

We need to start finishing above Arsenal, mind. On Tuesday night, while I understand the reflexive sentiment, there was something a little embarrassing about all those league tables being tweeted about showing Spurs ahead on goal difference. Like the Gooners can’t respond with any final table from the past 20 years and win that argument.

I’m not counting any chickens this season, especially with Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin returning soon. St Totteringham’s Day may well come again, but it won’t grate as much as it used to.

For me, the nadir will always be that moment Arsenal’s soon-to-be “Invincibles” celebrated winning the title at White Hart Lane in 2004. There will be never be a more sickening moment than that, and Arsenal fans will always have it over us. The only thing that will change it is Harry Kane and Co doing the same at The Emirates.

But memories fade. Thierry Henry is now an embarrassingly bad pundit on Sky Sports, Patrick Viera has taken Abu Dhabi City’s oil money, Sol Campbell is still Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole is still Ashley Cole. Twelve years on and Arsenal haven’t won a title since.

Arsenal and Spurs — we’re cats and dogs. We’ll always be mortal enemies, but that doesn’t mean we are constantly at each other’s throats, or that our interests don’t occasionally overlap.

The way things stand, I’m hating Arsenal less at the moment. Just a little, but nonetheless it is noticeable. There’s nothing to say it won’t come roaring back.

I know this is dangerous territory, even giving voice to it, but it’s something I’ve been feeling lately and this is my blog. Be honest now, isn’t there a little part of you that feels the same way?

Thanks for reading, I welcome any thoughts either below the comment line or through Twitter.

A psychological study of Spurs fans ahead of transfer deadline day

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Via Google Images

In the field of psychology there is a phenomenon called “attitude polarization”, in which a disagreement becomes more extreme as different parties consider new evidence on the issue in question.

What happens is that, when new evidence is introduced, it is interpreted in such a way as to reinforce existing biases towards the issue. So instead of narrowing a disagreement, or at least moving the disagreement along, as one may expect new evidence to do, it instead just jacks up the level of disagreement yet further.

If any shrinks out there are looking for a new case study, they may want to look at Spurs fans whenever the issue of signing a striker comes up.

In one corner is the school of thought that Spurs desperately need to sign a striker this January. Failing to do so leaves us exposed if Harry Kane gets injured, and could fatally undermine our chances of a top four place, or even a title run.*

Here is one tweet from my Twitter timeline to illustrate this side of the argument:

In the other corner, is the school of thought that Spurs already have excellent cover for Kane in the form of Son Heung-min, and buying a striker for the sake of it could harm the balance of the squad and waste money that could be used better in another way.

Here is another tweet from my Twitter timeline to illustrate this:

(Harry is my source of Arsenal Fan TV cuts, Caley needs no recommendation from such a minor blog as this one).

I don’t think, short of a serious injury to Kane in the FA Cup or in training, that any new evidence could emerge between now and the end of January that is significant enough to change minds. A man-of-the-match performance by Son against Leicester in the FA Cup, for example, or the inability to break down Leicester in the Premier League clash, were both not enough.

More likely, the small pieces of news that emerge from the camp, plus the drip-drip of gossip and speculation spewed out by the assorted footballing media, will simply serve to reinforce existing views further as February 1 draws near.

This same dynamic was in place in September, and the club hierarchy was so taken aback by the outpouring of frustration that Daniel Levy and Mauricio Pochettino needed to issue a statement to try and explain their views.

A lot has gone right for Spurs since then, and Pochettino in particular has won the admiration and trust of the fanbase. But this success has only served to heighten the demand, from some, to bring in another striker, given the opportunities this weird season is presenting.

Even as the views of us fans have evolved, albeit only further in one particular direction or the other, it is worth remembering that Pochettino’s view hasn’t changed at all. Every time the question is asked, and it is asked a lot, he says that he believes Spurs have sufficient options up front, he won’t buy a striker just for the sake of it, but if the right player was available he would like to add to the squad.

We don’t know Levy’s views — but the fact, as of the publishing date of this article, that the sum total of the club’s incoming business this window has been an 18-year-old midfielder from Ebbsfleet Town, makes his stance pretty clear.

My two cents is that Spurs need to sign another striker. But it’s not because Son isn’t able to cover for Kane, it is that when he plays up top he is too similar. We need a “different” option, especially off the bench. There have been a number of tight games — against Everton at home, West Brom away, Leicester at home for example — where a striker who likes to play in behind a defence, rather than from side-to-side, may have made the difference.

At the right price, I’m all for bringing in someone like Saido Berahino, although this appears increasingly unlikely. A loan, if the right player was available, would make a lot of sense if Spurs don’t want to take the risk of a big outlay on someone they are not completely convinced by. Moussa Dembele from Fulham sounds an interesting prospect, although he would appear very much at the development stage.

But that is just my opinion. Nothing will change my view at this point, just as nothing I say will change your view. It’s going to be a long seven days.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat, and I greatly appreciate your help sharing this article.

* Quick update: To make clear, a lot more fans think Spurs should sign another striker than stick with current options.