7 October 2015

On Andros Townsend

After Andros Townsend came onto the scene for AVB's Tottenham at the start of the 2013/14 season, several articles were published under the headline "Is Andros Townsend the next Gareth Bale?". Feel free to copy and paste that into Google; you'll find like I did a bunch of articles written in 2013 discussing that prospect.

And blimey, what a prospect it was for us Spurs fans! We sold our hero, our talisman, arguably the best to play for Spurs in many years. And in an instant, we could have found a successor. Not one bought, but one of our own! One fast, attacking, goal-hungry, distance-striking winger replacing another. It was glorious. It dared us to dream of thirty-yard screamers, last minute winners, attacking football again. And with thoughts on what that could do for a national team so devoid of flare, so lacking in actual impact players, every English football fan was caught up in the furore of Andros Townsend.

It breaks my heart, therefore, to have to say this, but I think everyone knows it's true. He's one of our own, after all, that's what we sung - but so has many failed Tottenham prospects. Andros Townsend will never amount to the player we want him to be. Furthermore, Townsend barely justifies any more a seat on Tottenham's bench, let alone a starring role.

Allow me to explain. Townsend has many attributes that I adore from a modern-day winger: the ability to take on the defender; the willingness to take a dig at goal from outside box; the sheer velocity to belt it down the flanks. I look at defenders when he has the ball and they look startled into action, frantic to defend and stop him from making a difference in the final third. There's no denying that Townsend could fit the mould perfectly to play in our first team - hell, to play in any Spurs team over the years.

Well, then - why isn't he playing in the first team? Why has Pochettino confined him to the benches this season, using him in the league as no more than a second-half impact player? If he does indeed have all these attributes, shouldn't he easily waltz into the starting eleven ahead of Erik Lamela, ahead of Mousa Dembele, ahead of Nacer Chadli?

The answer is end product. Shots on goal. Creating chances. The difference between foreplay and fuck. Townsend has absolutely no end product, both as a midfielder and as an attacker. He has the foreplay of a pornstar but the penetration of a pubescent twit. He will take on the man; he will dribble down the the flanks; he will get into creative positions to set up and maybe even score. And he will bottle it almost every time. It's fun to watch him mess with defenders, but it is infuriating to watch the terrible crosses, the missed passes, but most of all, the constant, constant attempts on goal,

Scenario: a player gets the ball - teammates are in the box - a player cuts inside - a player looks up - teammates lose their marker - a player decides Fuck it, I'm scoring the winner - a ball goes cannoning into Row Z - possession lost, chance wasted.

Now picture that same scenario when you're watching your team, and it's every single game, and it's every single appearance, and it's every single season. I present you Andros Towsnend.

And the stats do not favour Andros at all. I've dusted off my old calculator, done a bit of division, nearly had an aneurysm, and discovered some shocking statistics about Townsend's end product. This was shocking despite the experience of watching him play for the past few seasons. Brace yourselves, people.

Across the last three seasons in the league and in Europe, Andros Townsend has played for Tottenham 58 times, shot at goal 102 times, and found the net 2 times. Two. That's a shot conversion rate of 1.9%. To put that in perspective, Spurs fans are like to see one goal out of every fifty Andros Townsend shots... ONE GOAL - FIFTY SHOTS. To put this in an even worse perspective for Andros, we'd be likely to get seven goals from Nacer Chadli in as many shots since 2013.

The fun doesn't end there, guys. Oh no. More of the stats that we so eagerly like to read say that Spurs fans see Andros create a single chance per 113 minutes of football. To compare with the a much maligned (and frankly, by many Spurs fans, still despised) rival to the right-wing spot, Erik Lamela will on average create a chance every 38 minutes of football, as well as the 12 assists compared to Townsend's 3 amongst his chances. If I were crude, I would say Lamela is statistically three times as creative as Andros Townsend on the football pitch.

So why exactly might Pochettino bench this young, talented footballer? Well, not only do the other young talented footballers in the squad - Kane, Lamela, Dier, Alli, (at a push) Mason - clearly make better impacts on matches than Townsend, these players are also improving at a far better rate since first playing for Spurs than Townsend. Whilst only the most hypercritical cynic would dispute the fact that Erik Lamela has improved since arriving at Spurs from Roma, Townsend is exactly the same player as he was when he burst onto the scene that same year. There's even an argument to suggest Townsend has gotten worse since first starting for Spurs in 2013; good defenders are more aware of his party tricks and can show him onto his weaker right-foot, which has even less of an impact than his left foot. With the likes of Alex Pritchard and Joshua Onomah jumping up and down to play for Spurs, I honestly wonder how Townsend is even on the bench under Pochettino.

Imagining a Townsend performance is much like Orwell's imagination of the future in Ninety Eighty-Four. I paraphrase: There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment in the process of attacking football. All possible chances to score will be destroyed. Always will there be the intoxication of taking shots, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of shooting from thirty-yards out, the sensation of trampling on a goal-scoring opportunity that is helpless. If you want a picture of Andros Townsend, imagine a boot stamping on Mauricio Pochettino's face - for ever.

Perhaps I'm being a tad harsh in likening Andros Townsend to totalitarianism. My main point is that I hold very little hope for Townsend as a top-half Premier League player. He is void of all end product, merely possessing the threat of it. He has all the attributes of an impact player without the decision-making skills to consistently do anything useful with them. At aged 24, there's still a few more years potentially there for improvement, and I'd love to see him replicate for Tottenham what he seems to do invariably for England. Sadly, with injury problems looming and better options already available and playing for Pochettino, I see a struggle for Townsend to hold onto his future at Tottenham.

The British tabloids have an excruciatingly painful tendency to hype up young, English footballers and announce them to be the next superstar in order to create interest. It wouldn't bother me if it didn't leave such a mark on these young players' careers. Tottenham and England fans alike will always struggle to discard the idea that Townsend could one day score goals, change games, bring glory like Gareth Bale did season after season in Lilywhite. But it's time we put it next to our other hopeless dreams for English football. I'd say that glory fades for Andros - this time, I doubt the glory was ever there to begin with.

24 January 2015

Are Spurs set to surprise a few this season?

Nobody at Tottenham Hotspur expected anything coming into the new season. They had a new manager with new ideas (or should I say “philosophies”?) on how the team should play. They were set to start a recovery, a plan to repair the broken squad of the 2013/14 season, and, having learnt the price of an itchy trigger-finger, most Spurs fans were prepared to wait patiently during this season of transition.

That was the mood in August, before a ball was kicked or a game was played. It is now January and the Premier League has surpassed the halfway point. Spurs sit in sixth, three points off fourth place, two points off bitter rivals Arsenal, two points above Liverpool. They are still fighting in all cup competitions: fourth round of the FA Cup, last 32 of the Europa League, semi final of the League Cup. Suddenly, the mood at Spurs has shifted to snowballing optimism.

You may be asking many questions. How have Spurs season turned out this way? Can Tottenham seriously get into the top four? Can they even win silverware?

I might as well attempt to tackle a few of these.

How?

Having watched Southampton excel last season, I had some sort of expectation as to what Tottenham under Pochettino would be like: high-pressing, possession-based attacking football. But what precisely is the substance of the team? What lies beyond the tactics?

Man-management. Both the previous two managers, Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood, had been charged with lacking in man-management skills. Whilst perhaps this criticism has been contested here and there, there is no denying that Pochettino has communicated superbly with the Tottenham players, particularly the youth. Names like Bentaleb, Kane and Mason were inherited from the previous management as prospects (credit where it’s due) and Pochettino has turned these squad players into starting players. That’s actually an understatement – they are now pivotal to the team! Bentaleb has conducted our build-up play perfectly in midfield. Mason has injected the energy and commitment long absent in defensive midfield at Spurs. Kane is currently Tottenham’s highest scorer in all competitions this season. A Spurs striker that scores goals?! It defies logic.

The cohesion of the squad is another area that has thoroughly improved as well this season. The absence of high-profile, big-money, big-expectation signings in August has allowed the current squad to attempt to prove themselves.  Some of these players have risen to the plate: Chadli, Eriksen, Lamela, Vertonghen and Rose spring to mind. Some have not and question marks remain: Soldado, Adebayor, Kaboul and Capoue have disappointed fans, the saddest one being Kaboul, the supposed skipper. Lloris is… well, Lloris – he was always going to be godlike between the posts.

The success of Tottenham this year has derived from a young, vibrant squad still in status of transition.

Top four? 

At the start of the year, not a single fan would have entertained the idea of a top four challenge, let alone a place. What has emerged this year, most surprisingly, is the failings and disappointments of the other top clubs. Manchester United, despite hammering open the multi-million pound piggy-bank in the summer, have been edgy. Arsenal are imitating the Spurs of 2012/13 and are being carried by their world-class talisman in the form of Alexis Sanchez. Liverpool are imitating the Spurs of 2013/14 and are suffering the loss of their world-class talent in the form of Luis Suarez. Everton are nowhere to be seen. This has paved the way for teams like West Ham and Southampton to cement themselves in the top half, and they don’t look like going away in a hurry.

What this means is that, to use a Sky Sports-style cliché, the race for the top four is completely wide open (*cue dramatic music*). Chelsea and Manchester City have first and second, but third and fourth belongs to whom? There is nothing that suggests to me that Spurs are incapable of challenging, despite whatever challenge surely being based on fragility.

Silverware? 

It is annoying and insipid to constantly having to listen to Sky Sports proclaim Champions League football as the be-all and end-all of a season. At Tottenham, silverware is their manifestation of glory in football, and every season, there burns a hope in Spurs fans’ hearts that they can claim this glory again.

As mentioned before, Spurs are still competing in all the cup competitions. Most immediately, Spurs take on Sheffield United in the League Cup Semi Final, and optimism is naturally high that the club will have another Wembley Final. Absolutely anything can happen in a cup final, so it would be foolish of me to make predictions. Needless to say, though, it would be the best opportunity for a trophy this season for Spurs.

The Europa League is a long and arduous journey from now till May if a club wants to reach the final. Previous seasons have despicably proved that it is the Champions League failures that succeed in the Europa League. Given the right sustenance and management, however, it is possible for Tottenham to endure a European challenge. The FA Cup is still a long way off completion, but Spurs face Leicester in the Fourth Round this Saturday, so it will be interesting is our progress furthers.

Tottenham are far from any sense of a finished article. Their defence has often been suspect. There has been a heavy reliance on last-minute victories to sustain periods of form. However, if progress during transition is to be suspected, is it so foolish to dream that Spurs can only get better from here on in?

Probably. Still, at least it’ll be fun to watch.

5 August 2014

The End of Tottenham’s Fight for Fourth

The fight for fourth place in the Premier League has become more like a war, consuming the ambitions of clubs in the top half over the last decade, none more so in recent years than Tottenham Hotspur.

Growing up through the Noughties, I saw the Big Four in English football as a dominant and statute force; Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool. Change to the elite was few and far between, perhaps most notably with Everton in 2004-05. The top four clubs in English football remained the same for many seasons, though. The decline of Liverpool, however, saw a vacuum form, and the seasonal battles for fourth place begun.

Tottenham came agonisingly close to breaking the mould under Jol, falling short at the final hurdle in 2006 on account of dodgy lasagna. The 2009-10 season under Redknapp saw Spurs finish above the likes of Arab-invested Man City, Moyes' Everton and the fallen Liverpool in fourth, and the Big Four had finally been broken. And ever since Peter Crouch's goal at Maine Road, Spurs have been battling ceaselessly and relentlessly to finish fourth every season.

Since 2010, three managers have been sacked, floods of plastic fans have held up the Lilywhite banners, and the identity of the squad and the club has changed beyond recognition. Coupled with off-pitch issues, such as the rise in ticket prices, inflated transfer windows, and Northumberland Park Project, Spurs fans have been left thoroughly exhausted and deflated by the war.

But the saddest thing, the most tragic fact that angers fans most of all, is that after all this conflict, after years of battles for a top four finish, the only rewards for the club has been Ramos' league cup win in 2008 and one season in the Champions League. Totttenham's status as one of the best clubs in English football has been returned, however their European status has not. Fans have been left thinking of what could have been, rather than what was.

A new season is before us, and with it, a new manager. Mauricio Pochettino joins Tottenham after raising Southampton into the top half of the table with attractive, attacking football and excellent man management. Highly regarded for his management philosophy and reputation, Pochettino is expected to change the picture at White Hart Lane, a picture that took many a heavy beating last season.

Tottenham's squad is looking healthy and fairly well-rounded. Key players, such as Lloris, Eriksen, and Vertonghen, will play under Pochettino, a luxury sadly lost on other clubs. The prospect of Erik Lamela to play a key role this season after recovering from injury and starring in pre-season has increased morale for Spurs fans. And with Levy strengthening defensively, last season's regular beatings may be at an end.

Expectations in the league, however, are at its lowest in the past five years. The war for fourth place continues, and motivations for success are high; United under Van Gaal are looking to return to their place amongst Europe's elite, Liverpool are hoping to retain their breakthrough at the top, Arsenal are looking beyond fourth, and Everton under Martinez want to prove themselves as more than just a threat. After last season, other clubs and their fans think much less of Tottenham and their squad, and rightly so.

All of this is understood by Spurs fans, but hopes of a good seasons should not be discarded. Pochettino will begin integrating his high-pressing, attacking, hard-working philosophy on a more than capable set of players. Our squad depth will allow us to challenge in the cups, notably a Europa League with a place in the Champions League for the winner. League games against the top teams will be more competitive this season.

However, the likelihood of Spurs finishing in the top four this season is low. This will be a season of transition under a new manager, reforming a young squad under Pochettino's new philosophy. Tottenham will be building a foundation for future success; even the ficklest of fans will refrain from calling for this manager's head come May.


As surprising as it may be, a season's respite away from the bloody battle for fourth place will prove a healthy remedy for a broken club, a source of cautious optimism for Tottenham's future.  

11 June 2014

England Expects Part 3: Steven Gerrard is sh*t

Call me unpatriotic and pessimistic if you must, but this is by far the worst England tournament squad I've seen in my lifetime. It is almost bereft of any distinguishable world class talent or any cohesion and unity. What it does excell in is supplying the nation with average, overrated players, many of whom would barely make the reserves of the upper strata's squads.

Let's make things nice and sparkling clean:

Joe Hart: After one spectacular keeping display against Borussia Dortmund in 2012, Joe Hart was labelled the best keeper in the world by the British press. Subsequently, Hart has turned out to be just a keeper that's good on his day but is very accident prone (see the first half of this season). He's much better than Rob Green and David James, but that really isn't saying much.

Ben Foster: Average.

Fraser Forster: A couple of good games against Barcelona has made his career. Still one more than Joe Hart, of course.

Glen Johnson: Despite not showing a shred of form in Liverpool's costly defence, Johnson has beaten the likes of Crystal Palace's Joel Ward to an England spot, and we all know why that is! If a player plays for a top 6 club, regardless of his quality, he will always get preferred to than any other league player. Johnson is a poor defender and an equally poor attacking wing back. He will get found out against even the most sporadic wingers, mark my words.

Chris Smalling: When he isn't injured, Chris Smalling is unable to get ahead of ageing Manchester United centre backs, with his only contribution this season in the form of a below-par full back. Smalling's averageness and inexperience, without good management, is bound to prove costly.

Gary Cahill: Despite not being anywhere near world class quality, Cahill is the best available defender in the nation. What a damning indictment...

Phil Jagielka: Been playing very consistent for Everton this season and one of the players that have definitely earned his place. Again, not world class, but he'll be a match for most strikers.

Phil Jones: (refer to Chris Smalling for an eery parallel)

Leighton Baines: One of the few players in the squad that could fit in to every nation's first team.

Luke Shaw: As with any young English talent, Shaw is overrated, but that's not his fault. He is a very good full back for his age and lack of experience. I look forward to seeing his career develop.

Steven Gerrard: Out of all the players in the England squad, Steven Gerrard is probably the most overrated, average footballers in the nation. This season, it has become popular amongst the English press to applaud Gerrard's every touch and pass, however insignificant they are. Whilst occupying a holding midfield role, Gerrard has defended poorly as part of an inadequate Liverpool defence. He slows down the play and can barely retain possession due to an annoying habit to hoof the ball up the pitch from the halfway line. Gerrard's only real contributions for Liverpool this season are his 12 penalties and a free kick, plus many set-piece assists as part of a free-scoring team under Rodgers. What I will say is that I find it wondrous that this shithouse got nominated for Player Of The Season. Needless to say, I can't wait until he retires.

Frank Lampard: Not only has Lampard underperformed for his country in every tournament he's ever been in, the MLS-bound midfielder also resembles Steven Gerrard in ability. By that, he barely retains possession, partial to hoofing it upfield from the halfway, and has the mobility of a stuffed aubergine. How this man ever got into this squad after the season he's had will inevitably be puzzled over by generations to come.

Jack Wilshere: When you look up 'overrated' in the dictionary, you will surely find Jack Wilshere's ratty, smug, drug-addled face, followed by a repetitive soundbite of the adult professional calling Tottenham 'shit'. He is yet another England player who is living off a couple of performances from years gone by. Of his talents, there is his doubtless ability to run around a bit and keep possession. The man wouldn't know what creativity is if it popped up in front of him and offered him a gram. What an embarrassment.

Jordan Henderson: Most people I talk to tell me his game has improved a lot this season, but I've yet to be convinced he can replicate it on an international level. Of course, that doesn't make him unlike any other English midfielder of the past decade.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: In a central role, Chamberlain has really shined for Arsenal, offering pace, determination, creativity and an end product. As a winger, although he isn't as effective, he is still head and shoulders above his supposed competition. However, Chamberlain is regretfully injured for the group stages.

James Milner: So average it makes you want to cry.

Raheem Sterling: Sterling is actually a young English midfielder that does live up to the hype. I know, right? What a find! His inexperience in not only international level but in cup competitions is the downside here, but he will make an effective impact player in Brazil.

Adam Lallana: It pleases me beyond comprehension that a player outside the top 6 has managed to get in the England squad. He deserves his place; he has performed well and consistently in the league and so far for England. Lallana's creativity, fluidity and versatility will prove vital for England's efforts in this tournament.

Ross Barkley: I have only nice things to say about Ross Barkley. He has the potential to be world class over time, with the ability to take set pieces, create something out of nothing, take on defenders and be an attacking threat.

Danny Welbeck: I have a Mancunian mate that adores Danny Welbeck, but so far he is the only one that has ever honestly rated him highly that I know. Welbeck shows signs of quality, but being completely inconsistent and completely underwhelming as a striker, he is likely to send the nation in a world of sighs and swears.

Daniel Sturridge: Sturridge has enjoyed the best season of his career at Liverpool, earning him a Player Of The Year nomination. He can score individual goals and work as part of a team as a potent finisher. Whilst you cannot deny that Sturridge has obvious ability as a good striker, we have yet to discover how much of that is due to being Luis Suarez's strike partner. Still, he will definitely be our main goal threat in Brazil.

Rickie Lambert: Lambert has found a place in this England team, not through a good season, but through England's severe lack of strikers, beating off competition from one-trick-pony Andy Carroll and MLS-level Jermain Defoe. I suppose Lambert will be somewhat an impact sub due to his height, but he won't trouble solid defences at this level.

Wayne Rooney: Rooney is the best player in the squad. This hasn't escaped him from increasing criticism due to his consistently average performances for England. If we could harness his full ability at the World Cup, we would be maybe eek into the status of 'dark horse', that's for sure. But how many times have we pinned our hopes to Wayne Rooney and become disappointment?

In conclusion, although there are a few shreds of quality in our squad and some potential quality players, 2014 will be another year of hurt for our national team. Ah well...

19 April 2014

What Does The Future Hold For Erik Lamela?

Erik Lamela's first season at Spurs, in parallel with this season as a whole, has been one of great disappointment. Signed from Roma in August, Lamela seems to represent the plentiful nature of young talent in our squad without there being any great, world-class specimen. He has featured rarely, and his absence has become a great source of pain for Spurs fans. As we begin to hunger for a new start, I begin to question where exactly does the Argentinian go from here?

Let me give you the skinny. 21-year-old Erik Lamela, one of the top (if not the top) young talents in Serie A, signed for Spurs for £25.8million in August. He, together with Christian Eriksen, came to replace the departed Gareth Bale, last year's Player Of The Year. The two players potentially and logically had what Bale possessed together: goals from midfield, flair, creativity and an eye for set pieces. The eyes of Spurs fans passively looked to Lamela for guidance.

I felt euphoric when I first saw this photo. How times change.
With the weight of expectation on his shoulders, a burden shared by all of the summer signings, he was not planted straight into the first team, but eased in by Andre Villas-Boas, kept out by the bright but inconsistent Andros Townsend. Lamela and Spurs fans alike waited and waited and did a bit more waiting to see a performance from him. The wait briefly ended on November 7th against Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League – a goal, an assist and a match-winning performance. This would be, arguably, the one and only time we saw Lamela at his maximum.

The Spurs fans were once again left starved of Lamela and starved of his talent. When AVB was sacked in December, some began to speculate that he could get his chance, get his moment he and we had craved. Sadly not. Either by injury or (allegedly) through Tim Sherwood's over-zealous repression, Lamela has not featured in the first team since December 4th.

I have too waited and, like this season, nothing” is the cry from many a fan. “What a waste of money!” some would even say. The outrage and knife-wielding cries of our fanbase forms a clear, Machiavellin-esque purging of our squad, such a purging that even Stalin could be proud. Out the signings. Out the deadwood. Out Tim Sherwood. New man comes in. Chuck in a few expletives and that's the gist of it, anyway.
I have become tired in my disappointment. “Thirty-million pound and

This may just be me – speaking as someone who has brooded over this season in a melancholic state for four months since we sacked Villas-Boas – but I once again will state that the worst thing for this squad would be a purging. In that case, I believe Lamela stays. But what do I expect from the young winger? Bale-esque glory? 30-yard screamers? 90th minute winners?

I knew in my depths of my heart when we signed him that we were unlikely to get a top quality player in his first season in England. Across the road at Arsenal, the signing of Mesut Ozil has proved as inconsistent as any of Spurs' signings, has it not? We took the gamble of signing Eriksen and Lamela, two young foreign players to replace Bale. One has flourished. The other has not. This is the cold, disappointing truth.

Lamela gets his leg up against Tromso in the Europa League
However, it is not ludicrous to state that Lamela has a chance to flourish next season. At Roma, he rightly rose to prominence in the team, labelled by many of their fans as 'the next Totti'. He was versatile, operating both on the right as an inverted winger, and as a creative No. 10 on many occasions. He scored 15 goals and assisted five times in his last season in Serie A. Quite simply, you never gain a reputation as one of the best young talents in Europe unless you are really talented. Quite simply, there is no smoke without fire.

Erik Lamela has been absent in his debut season, both in his minute appearances on the pitch, and in his long time out of the Tottenham squad. A disappointment and a dead cert on many 'Worst Transfers of the Season' lists. It is my belief, however, that what will come of Lamela in his Spurs career will be no disappointment; he may even become extraordinary.


Last December, Lamela said in an interview to the Standard a telling quote: “I feel I need a bit of time. My moment will come and I will make the difference.” Let's hope so too.

11 April 2014

What's Next For Tottenham Hotspur?

Two moments stand out and serves to summarise Tottenham’s season. The first is the euphoria felt by our fans after signing seven players with big reputations worldwide, for an investment of £105m and an investment of expectation. The second is Tim Sherwood throwing his gilet to the floor during the North London Derby at White Hart Lane.
Questions, questions, questions. How? Why? What now? What next?
When dissecting Tottenham’s season, most people go back to our transfer dealings (usually in the form of ‘they spent £100m on sh*t’). At the start of September, not one writer or punter saw those dealings as a negative; although we sold Bale, we seemingly replaced him by buying talent in all positions. The oracle that is Garth Crooks summed up this stance by boldly: “Tottenham had sold Elvis and bought The Beatles”.
As the season went on, a realisation grew amongst the footballing world: by selling Gareth Bale, Spurs lost their match-winner and the focal point of their team and that the players that Technical Director Franco Baldini brought in could not possibly replace what the Welshman possessed. By September, AVB had a team built around a man that no longer existed in Lilywhite. If you doubt the importance of a star player to a team, look no further than Liverpool, who’s focal point in Suarez has placed them in a title challenge. Melancholic it may be to think Tottenham could be achieving what Liverpool are doing right now, but it’s only the truth.
Tottenham find themselves currently in a position of numbness. Some say the season ended after being obliterated by Liverpool at Anfield, illustrating a start contrast between the two clubs at present. Others say it ended in December with the sacking of AVB and replacement of Tim Sherwood, seemingly gambling away the season before even the halfway point. Our squad is lacking confidence, form and desire, redeemed only by the successes of Adebayor and Eriksen. The media have condemned our club to our current place of purgatory – ‘Spurs are where they have always been and should expect no more’.
With the news that Sherwood will be replaced in the summer, fans can now think towards the future and what to expect for next season. Will we have a summer of upheaval and refurbishment, selling the players we signed and replacing them with more prospects? Will we try and build around the few gems carved from the pit that is this season?
The new manager, whoever he may be, must first look at what we have in our squad. I refuse to place the failures of our season on the players that we signed in August 2013. Take Soldado for instance. Yes, he has a had a dire season, failing to deliver on the promise of prolific goalscoring. My point is that Roberto Soldado was bought for £26m as one of the most prolific goalscorers in Europe, scoring more than 20 goals for each of the past four seasons. Just because Soldado has not lived up to expectations this season, it does not mean that there is nothing to be had in him next season.
This concept goes with the other players too. The Premier League is littered with players who came from foreign leagues who had poor first seasons but prospered in their future careers. Lamela showed glimpses of talent before being sidelined since December. Paulinho is still considered one of Brazil’s top talents, despite having a mediocre first season in England. Eriksen has been our stand out player this season, despite his inconsistent start.
There will be areas that will need improving in the summer. A young striker must be a priority after selling Jermain Defoe in January to Toronto. Younes Kaboul looks likely to be leaving in the summer when his contract runs out, so a centre-back should also be looked into. We currently possess average full-backs in Kyle Naughton and Danny Rose, so it is likely the new manager will need to strengthen there. On the whole though, our squad possesses talented individuals and is not in the need of another upheaval.
If Tottenham actually have the foundations of a talented squad, what is needed is somebody to create the blueprints needed for future success. Building this project will take years; we cannot hope for Chelsea-style instant success. A long process of evolution is needed, implementing the modern possession-based style of play which has proved successful in Europe, distancing the boardroom from management and stabilising a club in constant transition.
Tottenham’s season is a quagmire, an example of how to regress as a club. Selling your best players, sacking your manager midway through a season, replacing him with a manager with no professional experience whatsoever, deteriorating the relationship between the board and the fans off the pitch (the list goes on). Next season will have to be the start of an evolution and a project for future success if Spurs ever want to be at the top level of English football.

27 February 2014

Roberto Soldado: How Spurs' Spaniard hit rock-bottom

Roberto Soldado's career has hit an almighty low, plunging into a pit of indecision and anxiety. A signing that promised a feast has left Spurs fans hungry for more. The Spanish striker has gone from one of the most clinical in Europe to an object of ridicule, condemnation and even pity.

The question on many's lips is how. How can such a potent striker fall so far? How can we have expected so much but see so little? How can Soldado hope to revive his career again?

Let's start where it all began for Spurs and Soldado.

Summer arrived. It is in no way hyperbolic to say that Spurs fans were gagging for a world-class striker, a classic number 9, the player who had been missing for so long from White Hart Lane. This clearly was on the mind of Andre Villas-Boas, who set Franco Baldini the task of finding this golden player. Rumour after rumour of courting strikers went by. Panic began to set in amongst the fanbase. Would our saviour arrive?

Rumours of Soldado to Spurs began after the failure to sign David Villa at the start of July. Roberto Soldado, a Spanish striker praised by their media, featuring in their national team and much revered for his consistency. More than 20 goals a season for the past four seasons in Spain. He fit the bill, the model striker, the marquee signing. '#SignSoldado' trended on twitter, and Baldini was set on a mission to secure Roberto's signature.

Roberto Soldado signed for Spurs on the 1st August, the North London club's third signing of the summer after Paulinho and Nacer Chadli in July. The fee was £26million, more than any spent on a Spurs player at the time. I felt the wave of optimism and excitement on his first match against Espanyol. Everyone wanted a glimpse of Soldado; this sacred figure burst onto the pitch and everyone saw the talent there. He scored a penalty and his all-round play was pure energy. It was a delight. Optimism. Expectation. That's what Soldado took with him from Spain.
Soldado's first goal for Spurs against Espanyol
It all went downhill from there.

At the first, he had many chances, both in the league and in the cups. His movement both in and outside the box was professional. He came so close so many times. He opened his tally through penalties in the league and standard goals in the Europa League. The talent was there, and Andre Villas-Boas was prepared to let that talent find its feet in the league. Expectation was still high.

October came. Soldado was struggling to get find that first goal from open play. Never had I heard the term 'open-play goal' more often since the Spaniard signed for us. Such scrutiny from the press. 'FLOP', declares the Daily Chip-wrap, 'Jermain Defoe is better', 'Let Defoe play for his England chances'. The pressure got to AVB and he dropped Soldado for Defoe in the league for the first time. Tottenham lost 3-0 to West Ham that day. Lesson learned. Back to you, Robbie.

A week later, Soldado scored his first goal from open-play in the league against Aston Villa, and that remains his only goal of that manner in the league this season. I see it over and over and over again, Vine after Vine, and it looks sexy and succinct; one touch - BANG - goal. This was the player we signed, I thought, Roberto Soldado  classic number 9! This goal was the first of many, I thought.

Soldado scores his first league goal from open play against Villa. What a mouthful.
I thought.

The weeks and the games went by quicker and quicker, and each like a painful dagger to Soldado torso. Expectation grew on Soldado more and more. Hull at home — penalty. Everton — no goals. Newcastle — no goals, loss. Manchester City — no goals, thrashed. A team of flops, they said. £100million down the drain! Soldado and the team broke under the scrutiny of the press and the expectation of the fans.

Things go from bad to worse for Soldado, now off-the-pitch. Soldado's wife suffered a miscarriage and his heart was as broken as his game. Amongst this tragedy, Soldado found a brave and outstanding strength and scored a hat-trick against Anzhi in the Europa League. I was there that game. I could see the energy and the movement I saw in August. We screamed and sung his name from first minute to last. He embraced our passion, and at last, I thought, at last Soldado has found his feet.
Hat-trick against Anzhi. A glimmer of hope.

Three days later, Liverpool came to the Lane and thrashed Tottenham 5-0. The humiliation. The depression. The sacking of Andre Villas-Boas. The inexperienced gamble of Sherwood filled the void. You know the story, I needn't elaborate.

Like after the City thrashing, there was a response from the players. Soldado partnered Adebayor upfront and they fed off each other. Hopes of a new partnership were conceived in the minds of Spurs fans that these two could feed off each other's play, in the same way that Liverpool and Man City had prospered in attack. It soon became apparent though that Adebayor's form exceeded that of Soldado's immensely, and Sherwood dropped the Spaniard and left Adebayor as the lone striker.

Soldado has made a few sub appearances since then, but has looked very disappointing in front of goal. Outside the box, he produces tricks and flicks that create chances and opens up play; inside the box, he has no confidence and no composure. His much maligned and ridiculed misses against Dnipro and Norwich serves as examples to Soldado's fall from grace. He is a shadow of the man I saw in August, a pitiful figure, and one fears for his career.
Despair
So, that's where he is right now: football despair. Many have decided his flop is permanent, his pitfall leaves no means of escape. Many have called for his departure and replacement with a talent much younger. However, I do not.

Whilst some Spurs fans laments at the signing, 'why couldn't we have signed Negredo/Benteke/Remy?', I state simply this: we have Soldado. Behind the mask of incompetence Soldado dons lies the free-scoring, consistent, lethal striker of La Liga, up with the highest echelons of Europe's strikers. It may take a matter of games for that mask to fall off. It may take months. It may even take till next season, under a new manager and a new system. But my faith is there: he will return.

Soldado's Spurs career has been poor and unhappy. It started so bright on that August day, the sun shining on Soldado and White Hart Lane, hope and expectation showering on all Spurs fans. Now, like the miserable British weather, his career has been flooded and saturated, broken, with the fear it may never return to its former light.