How on earth…?
One of my favourite passtimes since I was about 12 years old is playing football management games on the various computer platforms I’ve owned over the years. I remember starting out with the primitive Football Manager on my Atari 800XL and then I moved on to Treble Champions, Football Director and Championship Manager. I’m currently on Championship Manager 2 which is an amazingly addictive and accurate game.
Anyone who has ever played any of these games will know the way they work. Championship Manager 2 for example, has a feature where all the management changes in the league are reported so you can keep an eye on what’s going on. You might get a message on the screen which says something like; ‘Sheffield Wednesday have appointed John Gregory as their new manager. Aston Villa are now looking for a replacement’. Or something like that.
However, if I was hit with the message; ‘Tottenham Hotspur have appointed George Graham as their new manager’; I would probably go ‘yeah, right. There’s no way that would happen…’
And that puts recent events at White Hart Lane into perspective. The shock around North London is measurable all the way across the Irish Sea. One of the most successful managers of the modern era has taken over at the bitter rivals of the club he found success with. It seems that few people are happy. Leeds fans are angry, Spurs fans are divided and Arsenal fans are shocked. Never again can they hold George Graham in the esteem that they once used to. Which suits us Spurs fans fine of course.
The job in hand
He has a tough time ahead of him. The squad is strong but lacking in key areas. The goalkeeping situation is pleasing enough. Despite being prone to terrible errors from time to time, both Espen Baardsen and Ian Walker remain good keepers. Espen just has to get that grin right when he lets in a soft goal in order to reach Ian’s level.
In defence, Sol Campbell is clearly the jewel in the crown, but there are questions elsewhere. Steve Carr has matured and improved trememdously since he broke into the first team nearly two years ago but in order to challenge for the championship, a player of international quality would be preferable at right-back. Ramon Vega needs to improve exponentially if he is to figure in George Graham’s plans and the troublesome left-back slot now has three incumbants since the addition of non-event, Paolo Tramezzani. In reserve are Colin Calderwood and John Scales who will probably contend for the second center-back slot alongside Sol.
The midfield is also no bed of roses. George will need to get the best out of Darren Anderton in order to satisfy Spurs fans who have become increasingly frustrated at his hot-and-cold performances. They will also want Anderton to take the right-wing slot from the hapless Ruel Fox. Despite scoring a few goals, Fox has continuously failed to deliver and his sale would be appreciated by many. The other wing will hopefully be held by David Ginola. He’s been a breath of fresh air for Spurs fans in the last 14 months and they will hope that Graham appreciates the Frenchman’s talents.
The center of midfield might need to be purchased. Allan Nielsen has looked pretty good so far this season but Nicola Berti has sank without trace with a string of poor performances. Perhaps Moussa Saib can be rescued from the strange exile he has experienced since his switch to Spurs. The Algerian captain is held in high esteem by many fans who enjoy his silky skills and passing. Meanwhile, Jose Dominguez, Andy Sinton and Stephen Clemence may find themselves frozen out as Graham looks to restructure.
Spurs are not too bad off up front. Les Ferdinand is thought to be highly rated by George Graham and with Steffan Iversen waiting in the wings, a good partnership is possible. Chris Armstrong’s erratic performances may be bad news for him but until Graham brings in some new strikers, he will have a chance to impress.
So what are the prospects for the rest of the season? A mid-table position at Christmas would be good news as a string of difficult games are on the horizon. A good run between January and March and an assault on the top six would be a great achievement for Graham but it is likely that Spurs will slip to around 10th by the end of the season. The squad is just not deep enough to sustain a challenge for a top six slot.
Am I happy?
I would consider myself about 75% happy with the appointment of Graham. The whole ex-Arsenal thing is not even an issue with me. When it comes down to it, success will eradicate the ill-feeling that is felt now. I remember when Jack Charlton took over the reigns of the Republic of Ireland team in 1986. Even though there were plenty of people unhappy about an English World Cup winner in control of the team, the unprecedented success he brought quickly made him one of the most loved figures in Irish history.
It’s the sterile football which worries me more but considering that we’ve been playing mediocre football for a decade now, we should be well used to it. The emergence of possible success will help offset the disappointing style.
Graham has got to sign some big names and he has to help bring on young players like Carr, Neale Fenn and Mark Gower. He also has to get the best out of underachievers llike Darren Anderton and Les Ferdinand in order to bring success to Spurs and satisfaction to Spurs fans. By the end of this season, we should have a better idea about what to expect from Spurs in the near future.
In the international arena this weekend, we saw the difference that fans can make on a game. The English fans at Wembley were disillusioned and frustrated by England’s 0-0 draw with Bulgaria. The support for the team diminished the more the match went on and in the last 30 minutes, the crowd fell into relative silence as the Eastern Europeans held strong with relative ease against the disappointing Michael Owen and Alan Shearer.
By comparison, the Scottish fans roared their team on for 90 minutes at Tynecastle in the thrilling 3-2 win over Estonia. Even when the Balkans went ahead twice in the game, the fans never gave up and the makeshift team responded with two late goals to snatch the points.
The support of 70,000 English fans could have helped snatch a goal, and that would have meant three points, and that would have meant that England faced a better chance of qualifying for Euro 2000. There is an arrogant element in the English psyche (and indeed, in many bigger countries psyches) that leads to the supporters going ‘ah, what the hell – I’m sick of this’.
Spurs fans have done similar over the last few years. While you might argue that they have cause to be disappointed, they can be sure that they are making themselves part of the problem and not part of the solution.