Tag Archives: Hugo Lloris

The mild irritation of the Europa League, and its potential impact on Spurs vs Chelsea

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The Arctic Circle was cold, but it was far from the toughest trip Spurs have made during the Europa League years. Mirror via Google Images.

Spurs are in serious danger of missing out on the Europa League next season, and not for the reasons that some predicted.

This week, the 12-game unbeaten run will be tested by a visit from José Mourinho’s Chelsea, less than 72 hours after Spurs complete a 4,968 mile round-trip to Baku.

This grand voyage to the far reaches of Europe has been something of an asterix amid the sea of positivity after Tottenham’s dismantling of West Ham on Sunday. You can understand why Mauricio Pochettino and his players were cautious post-match, talking instead about taking it a game at a time. A defeat next Sunday would be deflating, even if far from terminal with a relatively easy slate of games through until January.

Plenty has been written previously about the “Curse of the Europa League”Raphael Honigstein, for example, recently took a detailed look at its potentially draining impact across major leagues. I got rather het up about the trip to Baku in a recent post, bemoaning the inflexible Europa League scheduling and the lucky break it represents for Mourinho.

But it got me thinking. How much of a problem has the Europa League travel been for Spurs, specifically? In particular, how big an impact does it have on our performances in the following league game?

Or in other words, how screwed are we by the trip to Baku? And should I go out and do my Christmas shopping rather than risk watching The Special One and the Captain, Leader, Legend celebrating at White Hart Lane?

I’ve spent a little time researching our Europa League travels, and the result the following game. I’ve put it into a spreadsheet below.

We’re now into the fourth year of our current Europa League run, during which time we’ve played Thursday and the following weekend 37 times* — almost an entire Premier League season of extra games.

I doubt that 37 games is nearly enough to draw any deep conclusions, but it throws up a couple of interesting numbers.

  • In the past three seasons, Spurs averaged fewer points in league matches immediately following Europa League commitments. In these three seasons, we averaged 1.50 points per game (ppg) in matches after the Europa League, while we averaged 1.91 ppg when we had no Thursday night match.
  • So far this season, we are doing better after European games — but we are at most halfway through our campaign and made a slow start in the league, so let’s hold judgement for now.
  • In the previous three seasons, we averaged 1.89 ppg in matches after Europa League away games, and 1.07 ppg after home Europa League matches.
  • Our median round-trip distance is 2,280 miles — just a bit further than flying to Belgrade and back. When we’ve had a trip further than the 2,280 miles, our record is W 3, L 3, D 1. On trips below the median, our record is W 7, L 3, D 1.
  • In London derbies after Europa League matches, our record is W 5, L 5, D 2.

Other key points: We’ve never been as far as Baku. Our previous longest trip was to Tblisi in 2013/14 — 4,454 miles there and back. We beat Swansea at home the following Sunday.

Looking at the distances, you can see what a brutal campaign we had in 2013/14. We travelled a total of 18,332 miles, averaging 3,056 miles per Europa League away trip. We had some very heavy defeats that season — we lost 0-3 to West Ham after a trip to Moscow to play Anzi, and the 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool that led to AVB’s sacking was after a Thursday night fixture. We also lost 4-0 at Anfield, without any midweek distraction. We were thumped 6-0 and 5-1 by Man City, and Chelsea put four past us at the Bridge.

Spurs had all sorts of problems that season — we ended up being managed by Tim Sherwood, for example — but we couldn’t have had a more draining Europa League draw if we’d tried. We still picked up more points than in 2014/15, but it was utter misery.

Last season wasn’t much better — in the group stages our round trips were 2,140 miles, 2,936 miles and 3,090 miles. Yes, we’ve got a nasty trip coming up, but Monaco and particularly Anderlecht were nice, short journeys.

I also scraped together the performances of fellow Premier League travellers from the previous three seasons: Everton, Swansea and Liverpool.

Everton last season struggled to 11th, and Europa League fatigue was widely cited as a reason. However, Everton averaged more points in matches immediately after Thursday night fixtures (1.40 ppg) than they did without (1.18 ppg). I bet it didn’t feel that way for Everton fans. Everton scored seven points after both home and away European fixtures. Fatigue may well have been a factor in the poor league performance, but if it was, it was a problem that played out across a number of games, rather than striking immediately on a Thursday-Sunday back-to-back.

Swansea and Liverpool had a similar record as Spurs — points per game dipping after Thursday night matches, but picking up more points after Europa road trips than home matches. Liverpool went at 1.22 ppg after their European matches, and 1.72 ppg without. But their schedule was particularly brutal — facing Man City, Arsenal, Man Utd, Everton and Chelsea after Europa matches. I’d almost feel sorry for Brendan, if he wasn’t such a plonker.

An obvious truth lies here though — the result on Sunday after a match on Thursday is more likely to be affected by the quality of your opposition than tired legs, tired minds or spending long periods on a plane. The opposition will always have had longer to prepare than the team playing Thursday. It’s up to them to make the extra preparation count — like Chelsea did in the Capital One Cup final, for example, and West Ham absolutely did when Big Sam’s team rolled us over at White Hart Lane and set in motion the failure of the Bale money strategy.

I don’t think it is just the players who may suffer from fatigue, it’s the fans too. Sunday games, especially the 4pm kick-off in a marquee fixture, are fun, in moderation. But Saturday is the day for football — you can drink all day, and travel all day. The atmosphere is never quite the same for an early Sunday kick-off as it is on Saturday. Football is less enjoyable as an experience, and when you get defeats like we had against West Brom, Newcastle and Stoke, they feel even more deflating.

Pochettino, unusually, allowed himself a little moan about the scheduling: “I laugh, I only smile.”

With all the unconvincing enthusiasm of a dad before a mammoth car journey with his small kids, Hugo Lloris told Spurs TV that the team would benefit from the time they get to spend together on the long trip to Baku.

Hugo also hinted that a strong squad would travel. Pochettino may yet decide to leave some players at home — I’d love to see Harry Kane and Eric Dier given the night off, for injury avoidance. As I previously stated, we are far more likely to finish in the Top Four than win the Europa League, and even if we lose to Qarabag we’re almost guaranteed to go through if we beat Monaco at home.

It feels like Pochettino is unconvinced by the benefits of weakened teams in Europa League matches. Winning may be a better cure for fatigue than rest, in his view.

The rudimentary data suggests the “curse” of the Europa League may be overstated, at least for Spurs. Our league position hasn’t cratered like in some of the examples Honigstein set out. For Spurs, the Europa League is more of an irritation, no matter the distance travelled.

The problem is the persistent nature of the irritation — in the Champions League, at most half of your games will be Wednesday to Saturday, but it is in reality less as the top teams play more often in marquee Sunday match-ups. Spurs have had 37 games in recent seasons on minimum rest. That is 37 times the Premier League opposition have had the chance to prepare more than Spurs. You always feel like you are having to catch up — and I wonder if that is the main fatigue, as much as the air miles and the extra yards covered on the pitch. Perhaps this is where that leaking of points — 0.4 ppg for Spurs in the past three seasons — comes in.

As I said, I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from the small amount of data. But I’m less gloomy than I was when I was hypothesizing about playing Chelsea after such a long trip. The Christmas shopping can wait.

I’d note, the last time we played Chelsea, it was also our third match in a six-day period. It went pretty well.

To Azerbaijan, then.

* For Spurs, in all cases bar one it has been Thursday to Sunday. We had one Thursday to Monday — that night at Upton Park when Gareth Bale did this. Everton’s away win against QPR also came on Monday, after a trip to Kiev. There was no match after the home leg of the knock-out tie with Lyon in 2012/13 — I presume we made a nice early exit from the FA Cup that year. Hence 37 rather than 38 games. All distance data is from www.worldatlas.com using London as starting point.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles and general Spurs-related ramblings.

 

New pieces: A column on the future of Hugo Lloris at Spurs, and a Europa League preview

I have new piece on Hugo Lloris over at The Fighting Cock, entitled “What next for Hugo?”

Lloris is 28, and is entering his absolute prime as a goalkeeper. He is a world-class player and the captain of the French national team. If ever there was a time he wanted to be playing Champions League football, this is it. If there is one player at the club who doesn’t fit the timeframe for what is being built at Spurs, namely developing a young and exciting team over the next three seasons in readiness to compete in a shiny new stadium, it is Lloris.

Please do head over and check it out.

I’ve also done a Europa League preview over at Fresh Spurs. I talk Lamela, Harry Kane’s Hamstring, Tommy Carroll, Kevin Wimmer, and whether we’ll see any evidence of the Pochettino philosophy.

Any thoughts or comments welcomed.

Please follow me on Twitter (@crg_yeah) for new articles.

A doomsday preview: What if Spurs are worse?

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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.

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

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No Exit

A one-act play.

Starring Hugo Lloris and Daniel Levy.

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

DANIEL: Yes, Mr. Lloris.

HUGO: And this is what it looks like?

DANIEL: Yes.

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

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

DANIEL: What about?

HUGO: About.. .this- er… residence.

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

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

DANIEL: The what?

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

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

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

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

DANIEL: That’s so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DANIEL: Outside?

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

DANIEL: There’s a passage.

HUGO: And at the end of the passage?

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

HUGO: And what lies beyond them?

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

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

DANIEL: Did you call, Mr. Lloris?

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

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

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

HUGO: I haven’t an idea.

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

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

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

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

[An awkward pause]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HARRY: Oh!.. That’s too bad.

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

HARRY: Your mouth!

HUGO: I beg your pardon.

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

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

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

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

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

HUGO: We haven’t yet begun to suffer.

HARRY: Well? What’s going to happen?

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

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

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

HUGO: I’m not the captain, sir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HARRY: Did you suffer much?

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

[JAN looks at HUGO]

JAN: And you, Mr. Lloris?

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

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

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

JAN: Hugo! Please-

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

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

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

JAN: Staying?

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

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

HUGO: For ever, and ever, and ever.

(A long silence.)

FIN

The original can be, erm, found here