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Do I want Pochettino sacked?

No. I do not.

My Twitter account has said “Pochettino Out” since the day he was appointed. It was a bit of a joke.

But that joke is not funny anymore. Some real accounts are popping up suggesting that the guy be sacked, and they are proving divisive.

True to say that I was underwhelmed by his appointment and not quite sure why he had been given the job.

But his reputation was glowing and growing (and he wasn’t Tim Sherwood). So I conceded to those far better positioned than I to judge, and set my own goals for what I expected to see from his first season.

While I don’t want the manager sacked,  I get irritated when I get sent stuff like this:

“We have a strong future” can be categorised with “we’re heading in the right direction” as a meaningless statement without convincing supporting evidence.

Is it because he’s blooding young players? His transfer record? His tactical acumen? His man management? His choice of captains?

What have we seen from Pochettino this season that suggests he will make Spurs a top four team (with the handicap of having only the sixth highest wage bill) in the next couple of seasons?

In my opinion, he’s done OK, but no more than that.

He has, however, done enough to earn a second season on the basis of a handful of quality performances and just on the basis of reasonableness – a young manager who has shown some promise, should get proper time to succeed.

More than anything, I’m interested in what he does with Paul Mitchell over the summer while, at the same time, Daniel Levy will have to work hard to move on the players Pochettino does not want anymore.

This could include players that Pochettino asked for/agreed to last summer but does not play – or plays with little success.

So, once again, a big summer for Spurs and Mitchell might be the wild card in it all.

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No Point Lane for Jose and his Conspiracy Campaign

Conspiracy TheoryIf Jose Mourinho’s in-match performance was his usual artful theater, his post-match turn had the whiff of a whodunit mystery with some B-movie conspiracy theory waffle thrown in for good measure.

Despite his side conceding five goals at White Hart Lane (one win in nine league games for Chelsea now at so-called Three Point Lane), Mourinho chose to focus on the non-award of a penalty for a handball by Jan Vertonghen in the first half as the main reason for his team’s collapse.

In the interviews I watched, Jose said

We had the biggest opportunity to score the second goal which is a shot from the penalty spot.

I honestly had no idea which incident he was referring to until I dug further in to online commentary. This was the straw that Mourinho was clinging to – a clearly accidental handball by a falling defender -ball-to-hand, as Jose himself would no doubt be quick to highlight should, say, Gary Cahill been the victim of the same circumstance.

Jose Complaining

Jose also bemoaned the “honest” Eden Hazard who fell to ground after a tackle from Federico Fazio on the edge of the Tottenham box.

He’s a very honest guy in the way he plays but that’s another problem.

Based on his sideline histrionics, Jose clearly saw this incident as a foul. Hazard? Not so much. He immediately got to his feet after the tackle with no appeal to the referee. The Chelsea manager admitted that Hazard confirmed it was not a foul.

So that is good, in spite the fact Mr Dowd was too slow to follow that ball. He was 40 yards away but made the right decision. The decision in the first half, he was 10m away he couldn’t make.

When confronted with the evidence that Gary Cahill had, unprovoked, kicked the prone Harry Kane in the back while on the ground, Mourinho’s response was one of pure deflection.

I didn’t see that. But it was like the back – not like Sterling in the face?

It continues the “conspiracy” narrative that Mourinho started in the last week, his not-so-subtle attempt to pressure officials in to giving his players the benefit of the doubt in future games.

Even when he’s not accusing the officials of cheating him and his team, he’s extremely ungracious in defeat.

I hate to lose, of course, but I prefer to lose like I did against Newcastle with a clean performance by (referee Martin) Atkinson, an unlucky performance by us, a lucky performance by Newcastle. But a game you lose because of football.

And there’s not really anything wrong with that outside of it just making you an arsehole.

Mourinho is a great manager. He’s proven that time and again. But is he a great manager because he’s an arsehole or a great manager who happens to be an arsehole?

Eighty Two: My first World Cup and why it was awesome

When I heard Richard Sadlier and Ken Early on @SecondCaptains talking about how their first World Cup memories were 1990, I felt very grateful that even though only five years their senior, I can still vividly recall golden moments from the 1982 World Cup.

I’d only recorded eight years on the odometer at that point so I was innocent

Naranjito, the mascot. I guess Pique was the next one.

Naranjito, the mascot. I guess Pique was the next one.

enough to cheer on England and Northern Ireland, my psyche as yet untainted by tribalism, jealousy and Schadenfreude.

LUVFOOTY 1982 WORLD CUP MEMORY Bryan Robson hooks home after 27 seconds against France in the first World Cup game I watched from the beginning.

 

So much has changed since the tinny sound and grainy pictures of 1982.  Back then on-screen stats consisted of occasionally showing the score and elapsed time whenever the director remembered to push the button.

But more strikingly football has changed. Back then international football had a mystique borne out of exotic ideas like two substitutions, players wearing numbers greater than 11 and people who didn’t speak English.

Let’s put it this way.  Josef Venglos was manager of Czechoslovakia at the 1982 World Cup.  Eight years later he was to become the first foreign manager of an English club.

In 1982 there wasn’t even any live English league games on TV. The first live league match since the 1960s wasn’t broadcast until 1983. So to see a gathering of the greatest players in the world over a four-week period, live on television, was the event of the year.

LUVFOOTY 1982 WORLD CUP MEMORY An Arab Sheikh protests on the pitch after France are awarded a goal against Kuwait, leading to the referee changing his mind. 32 years later Sheikhs are still heavily influencing the game. #satire

 

A cursory review of the squads reveal what global football was like at the time.  Spain and Italy’s 22 men squad all played in their respective leagues. All but Uli Stielike (Real Madrid) played in West Germany. Tony Woodcock was the only member of England’s team playing outside the country (he was at Cologne). Didier Six (later to play for Aston Villa) was France’s lone traveler, at Stuttgart.

Oh, and the Soviet Union’s entire squad played behind the Iron Curtain. But I suppose that makes sense considering the Communist Soviet regime of the time.

Today the squads are dispersed all over the world. Nine of Spain’s 23 are outside the country, France have 15 outside the French league and seven Germans ply their trade in foreign climes.

Meanwhile Russia’s squad …. plays entirely in the Russian league.  Oh.

LUVFOOTY 1982 WORLD CUP MEMORY Marco Tardelli’s celebration in the World Cup final made him one of my favourite players. Then he became this guy.

 

But can the 8 year old kid today watch the game with wide-eyed fascination like I did?  I was seeing Zico, Socrates, Maradona, Zoff, Platini, Kempes, Rummenigge and Boniek for the first time.  The next time I’d see most of these guys might be two or four years down the road. In the meantime, it was back to Jimmy Case and Mick Channon for me.

Sure, 8 year old.  Enjoy seeing Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez, Xavi and Fellaini this month.  And then when the festival of football is over, you can just turn it on again the next day, and the day after that and the day after that.

How can one enjoy sunshine when it never rains, I ask you?

Is there some method, somewhere, to Levy’s madness?

Unless Daniel Levy is cackling away like a madman in his 100% leather-bound office, while putting the finishing touches to Frank de Boer’s managerial contract, it seems obvious that Southampton’s Mauricio Pochettino is about to leave the family-friendly south coast for a turbulent sixteen months in charge of Tottenham.

Pochettino v Owen, 2002

He’s the guy who brushed against Michael Owen in 2002.

I think it’s fair to say the news has been broadly received with a mixture of bewilderment and concern by Spurs fans.  At least the promotion of Tim Sherwood brought with it a sizable scoop of amusement to temper the negativity.

True, Levy never promised us a world-class manager like the Football Association of Ireland did shortly before Steve Staunton was appointed. But when names like Louis Van Gaal and Frank de Boer were said to be in contention, we at least expected to see someone you could label “a winner” take the hot seat.

Pochettino (who I guess should be added to my browser dictionary now) has done a decent job at Southampton albeit by inheriting and motivating someone else’s players.  He improved Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw so much that they are going to the World Cup and probably going to be playing for Champions League teams next season. He continued to get good service – and thirteen league goals – out of Rickie Lambert (another English World Cup squad member) and got a fifteen goal return from Jay Rodriguez.

If Levy is looking at this as evidence of that Pochettino is the man who can take a sixth place team and turn them in to a fourth place team, then maybe I can see that. Perhaps, for Levy, the key for 2014 is saving two high-profile transfer flops (and Spanish speakers) Soldado and Lamela, inspiring genuinely talented players like Paulinho, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen that their future can be bright at White Hart Lane and getting the best out of wild cards like Sandro, Dembele and Andros Townsend.

Spurs squad is very strong and the failure of last season’s class should be shared among Director of Something, Franco Baldini, Levy and the two equally-guilty managers Sherwood and Andre Villas-Boas.

There must be something in the Levy strategy that has put Pochettino over the top and left four-time title-winning manager Frank de Boer scratching his head.

The Tim Sherwood Story

“Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” crowed Tim Sherwood – for Timdays on end – in to the ear of chairman Daniel Levy, swapping the phrase “are we there yet” for “can I have the job”. Like any overworked parent, Daniel finally acquiesced, giving Tim the keys to the kingdom, keys he previously entrusted to a well-dressed Portuguese man with fluffy hair.

Daniel Levy“Now, Timothy,” he said sternly, peering over his fashion-friendly
glasses, “don’t fuck it up.”

As an ambitious tyke with full confidence in his own abilities, the 44-year old Tim immediately began stamping his own mark on the team, abandoning tactics and finding as many players as possible who the previous manager did not like.

“Hello, Ade? I’m going to put you in the team on Sunday. I Adebayorexpect a performance.”
“No problem, boss. You’ll get 100% from me. But no more than that, it should be noted.”
“That’s fine. Now you’re not going to score a couple in your first game and then disappear for the next three games, are you?”
“Noooo. No. Probably not.”

Tim was nothing if not wily. You don’t get to the position he was in without having full confidence in your abilities as well as saying and doing the right things at the right time. So with that in mind he immediately set about trying to win the fans over by doing opposite things to the previous bloke that they did not like.

“Right, lads,” he said to some lads who were nearby. “We’re going to shake things up a bit.”
“Great! The club needs some innovative ideas to get us out of this slump. What have you got in mind?”
“We’re going 4-4-2 with the emphasis on attack.” Eriksen
“That could work, Tim. This is great. How will Eriksen play in this 4-4-2? Will you play him wide like how Man City play their creative players sometimes?”
“No, in the center.”
“Ok…he’s not really got defensive qualities so you’ll probably play him with a solid defensive midfielder, yeah?”
“Well I thought Dembele given how he’s quite athletic and can run a lot.”
“Hmmm, well we’ll give you a pass on that one, barely. So, say he’s not available. Would you then put Capoue in?”
“Not at all. He’s not great at attacking. I only know one way to play. Attack. That’s the way to play the game. So I’d put Holtby in alongside Eriksen.”

With the players on board and the lack of tactics decided, Tim knew he had one more area to focus on – public relations. Although he had full confidence in his abilities, he knew he needed advice from a very smart manager. He flipped through his rolodex/contacts app and called up a very popular manager, a(n FA Cup) winner, a former Spurs hero, a man who had recently suffered relegation and won four out of his last twelve games.

“‘Ello ‘Arry.”
“Alright, mate! How’s it going? Heard about the gig. First smart decision Daniel has made since that time he allowed me to sign Ryan Nelsen and Louis Saha. Better off with those terrific, honest, top, top lads than your fancy dan Powlinos and Ceaușescus.”
“As you know ‘Arry I’m new to this. Can you give me a few tips on how to cope with the media?”
“Sure, sure. First of all, after a negative result, talk about how the lads gave you 100% – even Ade – and you couldn’t ask for anything more.  Then talk about the injuries. Throw in a “bare bones” reference and always have a list of unavailable players that you can rattle off. You can throw in a few extra names at the end like youth players or ‘Robbie’. No one’s going to try and figure out who you’re talking about.”
“Anything else?”
Arry in Car
“Make sure the electrics on your car are working good. You need to be able to roll the window down on 31st of January and talk about how there’s nothing doing out there and that you worked ever so hard to bring in players but ultimately clubs don’t want to let ’em go.”
“What about communicating the improvement I bring to the club?”
“Absolutely. Take whatever statistics you can and manipulate them in a bid to show how important you are to the club. For example, if you’re 8 points clear of the bottom three now but 12 points clear in three months, talk about how you’ve lifted the club away from the relegation zone. If you’re in eighth position now and no lower than that in May, you can tell everyone how Spurs were mid-table when you come in and you brought them in to contention. I’m not as stupid as I looks, Tim. Even though I can’t read very well and I writes like a child.”

Tim’s final stop was to see Franco Baldini, the man who became the new Damien Comolli, who was the new Frank Arnesen, who was the new David Pleat.

“Hello, Tim,” Baldini said, probably in an Italian accent.Baldini
“Don’t ‘hello, Tim’ me,” responded the indignant manager. “What we gonna do about all that tripe you bought in the summer?”
“Like who?”
“Chadli.”
“He’s good.”
“No he’s not. He’s good in Holland. And what about this Soldado chap? Bloody hell. He couldn’t hit a barndoor with a…ball”
“He’ll come good. He scored many times in the Spanish league,” insisted Franco.
“And Chiriches. It’s like a Ramon Vega tribute act,” Sherwood complained
“Anything else?”
“Lamela? He’s worth about a third of what Bale was.”
“Which is actually factually correct, Tim.”
“Look, all I’m saying is that these lads are no better than what we had.”
“And what do you propose?”
“We bring in Jamie Redknapp. As a coach.”

Jamie

And with that, Tim sauntered down to the training pitch to work on no tactics.

Tromso victory fooling no one

An unconvincing victory over Norway’s Tromso on Thursday night did not even paper over the cracks for anyone but the most optimistic Tottenham supporters.

Spurs laboured to a 2-0 victory over a team to whom Shamrock Rovers would have given a good game.

While the Europa League has been a relative success for Tottenham – 7 wins out of 7 with 19 scored and 1 conceded – the standard of opposition has not been high. The most challenging opponents should have been Anzhi Makhachkala, but the club went in to financial meltdown prior to the start of the season selling 135 million euro of talent.

Back in the Premier League on Sunday, Tottenham take on a resurgent Manchester United, fresh off their biggest European away win since the 6-0 victory over the aforementioned Shamrock Rovers in 1957.

All the signs point to a very difficult afternoon for Andre Villas Boas’ struggling side.

Against Tromso there was a personnel shake-up but no tactical change.

The midfield of Mousa Dembélé and Étienne Capoue showed little adventure and Andros Townsend’s deteriorating form was further cause for concern.

Roberto Soldado continued to struggle, failing to record a single shot in the whole game. Soldado is only months removed from a free-scoring period in Spanish football. 81 goals in 141 appearances for Valencia was preceded by 33 strikes in 66 games for Getafe. At Tottenham, he looks like a player who just does not fit.

Vlad Chiriches scores and is in line for a start versus the Champions

Vlad Chiriches scores against Tromso and is in line for a start versus the Champions

In spite of all the new signings this summer, Gylfi Sigurdsson continues to be one of Spurs’ most reliable performances, operating tirelessly on the left wing. And Vlad Chiriches took the defensive plaudits for a solid performance alongside the ailing Michael Dawson.

What Spurs fans expect to see on Sunday is a solid defensive unit with overlapping full-backs exposing the space that the inverted wingers – which has been AVB’s tactic of choice for much of the season – open up for them. They also expect to see Paulinho, Sigurdsson and Townsend get in the box and get shots on target. It hasn’t happened for much of this season and if Spurs give a toothless and spineless performance akin to last weekends, then a second Manchester thumping is on the cards.

And that, I would think, would be the end of Andre Villas Boas…regardless of what a former manager says.

Aside
AVB

You should look worried.

A lot of faith has been put in Andre Villas-Boas.  Perhaps a little unfortunate to miss out on the Champions League gravy train in May, this season he was given a squad that is probably title-challenging quality but has the lower expectations of finishing in the top four.

Twelve games in to the season, it might seem to soon to pass judgement on Villas-Boas. But his team are trending downwards: Spurs are conceding, not scoring and simply not performing.

This isn’t just about being thumped by a very good Manchester City team. This is about losing at home to West Ham and Newcastle, being second best to Arsenal and struggling to break down lesser teams like Hull, Cardiff, Swansea and Crystal Palace.  The squad, as a whole, is as good as we’ve seen at Spurs in a long time, perhaps since the sixties. But, as a team, there is a lack of creativity and charm.

Against City, Spurs had more possession – as they regularly do in games – registering 53% to 47% and recording almost as many attempts on goal as City (although only half as many on target). But when that possession takes place so frequently around the center circle, the value is negligible.

Some fans are probably ready to stop making excuses now.

  • “The team needs to gel” shield is something that logically loses its relevance as the games tick by. The performances are worse now than they were two months ago.
  • “Erik Lamela is adjusting to a new life, he’s had some personal difficulties.”  Really – and I’m being kind – he’s just not impressed.
  • “Roberto Soldado is not getting service.”  Well, yes. But he’s not scoring goals with the opportunities he’s getting either.  As far as I’m aware the ball, the goals and goalkeepers tending them are the same size here as they are in Spain.

Andros Townsend is talented but contributing nothing of value this season.  Jan Vertonghen looks like he’d rather be anywhere else than left-back. He’s a red card waiting to happen.  Loyal servant Michael Dawson who AVB almost sent to QPR about 15 months ago only to turn around and hand him the captaincy and a new contract, is getting exposed more frequently now.  He doesn’t look like one of our best two central defenders.

If you have players under-performing throughout your squad, there has to be questions asked of the man who coaches them.  Tottenham’s predictable, slow-building, passionless football is not working.  I’m not sure where it could work.  Perhaps in a country where all the other teams are more predictable and slower.  But in the Premier League it’s doomed to failure.

Sandro

Sandro – one of the few who can hold his head up after the City thrashing – throws up

And there’s more at stake here for AVB than just his job. A second sacking in three seasons would seriously undermine his credentials as a top flight boss.

If the West Ham defeat was strike one, then the Man City battering was strike two.  Combine a floundering team with unconvincing results and a third humiliation in a short period of time, and Daniel Levy might decide its time to put his ruthless hat on again.