Season of wither

I’m back!

After an eight month absence, I’m back with more half-baked ideas and non-sensical verbal sillyness. To think I missed nearly all of last season and now I’m going to have to play catch up. So what did I make of Tottenham’s tenth place finish in the Premiership last year?

Last season

It started so well for George Graham, and he must have been pleased with the early season form of his new signings, especially Oyvind Leonhardsen and Tim Sherwood who knocked in a dozen goals between them by December. But when injury took both these men out of action, things went pear shaped. The league form dipped and Spurs incredibly found themselves knocked out of all the cup competitions by Christmas. The most controversial moment came when David Ginola was dropped for Spurs unlucky defeat away to Kaiserslatuern. The gamble almost paid off, until Spurs conceeded two goals in injury time to go out 1-2 on aggregate. The reception for George Graham was icy to say the least, and that was the beginning of the slide which put him under pressure.

Earlier in the season Spurs had recorded victories over Arsenal, Manchester United as well as knocking in goals for fun against Everton, Newcastle, Coventry and Watford. However, apart from a home win over in-form Liverpool in January, the new year didn’t go so well. Poor defeats against Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds, Chelsea (twice) and criminally, Arsenal, meant that European football was out of the question. Tottenham finished in tenth despite a late rally which produced good wins over Leicester, Wimbledon and Sunderland.

Star Men

Star performers of the season were 17-goal Steffen Iversen, full-back Steven Carr, and the revitalised Chris Armstrong who netted 14 times after an injury and poor form nullified the first half of the season.

How the new signings faired

George’s new signings were a mixed bag. Tim Sherwood missed more than a third of the season with groin problems but up until his departure, he had been a star performer in midfield. Oyvind Leonhardsen too was a revelation up until injuries took his season away. His energetic and purposeful performances, combined with his telepathic understanding with Norwegian compatriot Iversen, gave Spurs a thrust that was badly missed in the year 2000.

Steffen Freund became George Graham’s second John Jensen, as such. The fiery midfielder showed a knack for never hitting the target, and also a talent for picking up needless yellow cards. When on his game, he was a vital part of the Spurs rearguard, but when having an off-day, he looked a liability. Mauricio Tarrico was a regular at left back, and was pretty much considered a success. Not the greatest defender in the Spurs back-four, he made up for his shortcomings by showing a real flair for attacking play. His link-up play with Ginola was impressive when Spurs were in command, but when on the back foot, he often found himself exposed by a lack of cover from the Frenchman.

Willem Korsten missed most of the season following his 1.5m move from under the noses of Leeds United. You have to ask what Leeds (and Graham) saw in the player who struggled to shine wherever he played on the pitch. However, following the injuries he has sustained, he can be fotgiven for lacking confidence and form. One can only hope that this player who two seasons ago shone at Leeds, can do so again at White Hart Lane.

New arrivals

But the squad is thin – anyone can see that. And even after some busy moves in the transfer market, that still looks the case.

Goalkeeper, Neil Sullivan (free) has arrived from relegated Wimbledon. This is a sign that Graham was not happy with his current selection of shot-stoppers. Walker performed moderately last season, and while elements of his game have improved, one can’t help feeling that he never looks much above average. His deputy, Espen Baardsen, while not overall as good a keeper as Walker, certainly seems to have more of a ‘spark’ in his play, i.e. he looks more capable of making the stunning save or coming out on top in a one-on-one situation. Sullivan is a very capable keeper and a great addition the the squad. Graham now has three good keepers at his disposal, all of which are current or former internationals.

After suffering the ‘talents’ of Ramon Vega and John Scales for so long, it’s nice to see Spurs have some quality defensive talent waiting in the wings for a change. Luke Young and Ledley King have been working their way up slowly and now Graham has brought in Port Vale youngster, Anthony Gardner for under a million. The highly-rated center back has already impressed in the reserves and in his brief appearances in the pre-season tour of Scandinavia, one it is likely that he will see first team action very soon. The more cynical observer has suggested that Gardner is being brought in as a replacement for Campbell, whose contract expires next summer. Also purchased from Wimbledon, is Ben Thatcher (5m). The full-back has tons of ability, and a bit to much agression. If he curbs his violent streak, then Thatcher will be a huge success. With the expception of Steven Carr, he is potentially Spurs best full-back since Chris Hughton in the eighties.

The sparse midfield has been boosted by the signings of Peterborough pair, Simon Davies and Matthew Etherington for 1.5m. Etherington is a pacy left-winger who is seen as a natural replacement for ageing French star, Ginola. The 19-year old has plenty to learn but has been recieving plaudits for several years in the lower leagues. Simon Davies is a box-to-box midfielder who has played international football for Wales. The 20-year old is fancied as a future Premiership superstar and a natural successor to 31-year old Tim Sherwood.

Up front, the landscape has completely changed. The big signing of course is Ukraine international, Sergei Rebrov (11m). Spurs record signing is a true world class performer, and arguably Spurs biggest signing since Gary Lineker in 1989. For someone who is used to performing in the Champions League, the fact that he signed for a mid-table side like Spurs either says more about him, or more about George Graham and David Pleat’s persuasive abilities. Rebrov is likely to be a huge hit but will need time to settle as he gets used to those around him.

More young talent brought in to play up front is Ireland international striker, Gary Doherty (1m) and non-league star, Dave McEwan (nominal). McEwan and Doherty both got to play in the Premiership last season and will get further chances to develop this year I hope. Doherty looks big and powerful in the vein of Les Ferdinand or, more telling, John Hartson. When the move for Hartson fell through last year, Spurs immediatly moved for Doherty. Compared to the 7m Spurs were willing to splash out on the injury-prone Welshman, the investment in Doherty looks to be money well spent.

McEwan will take a few seasons to get accustomed to full-time football, but at 22, he’s got time on his side. It would be the fairy tale to beat all fairy tales if this man makes it at Tottenham.

Even with these new faces on board, there is still not enough proven quality on show. The three summer signings (Sullivan, Thatcher and Rebrov) are all excellent deals that will definitely improve the first team, and the improved competition will hopefully bring out the best in Walker, Tarrico, Armstrong, Iversen and the other players whose automatic places in the first XI are now a thing of the past.

But I’ll discuss this more in my next column.

And finally…

So Martin Edwards has thrown in the towel at Manchester United. After more than a decade of controversy, the chief exec has decided to step down. And I think everyone from the average Man Utd fan to Alex Ferguson himself will be delighted by that. Ferguson has been banging heads with Edwards for the last five years over the lack of financial support that he’s been provided with. The wage structure at the world’s richest club was only broken at the tail end of last season in order to keep their vital cog, Roy Keane, at the club. And it has been said that Edwards refused to sanction the signing of players like Figo, Batistuta and Kluivert because he doesn’t wish to pay them 50k a week! This is a club that is worth over one billion pounds for Christs sake. They are the biggest club in the world and Ferguson has led them from relative obscurity to this position. And this is the thanks he gets.

Although the last thing I want to see is a more dominant Man Utd, I welcome Edwards departure as he stands for stubborness, greed and stupidity. Three characteristics I don’t embrace…hang on…Sir Sugar, are you listening??

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