Style ain’t enough

The Rightful Place

So ENIC have arrived, with chief executive and life-long Spurs fan, Daniel Levy, eager to return the club to it’s ‘rightful’ place. Where is that? Well it should probably be as a fairly stylish, European place-challenging, cup run-specialist side. The problem is that while this was a unique niche years ago, modern football is a lot harder to stand out in.

80s Revival

When I was about 12 or 13, going back to the mid 1980s, Spurs were the stylish side in the First Division. We were not particularly successful. I mean there was the back-to-back cup wins in 1981/82, the UEFA Cup in 1984 and some decent league finishes, but we were rarely the team who would mount a serious league challenge. To put it in perspective, Newcastle, Blackburn, Leeds and Aston Villa, in the last ten years, have each mounted as many serious league challenges as Spurs have in twenty years. Also notable is that all of these teams have spent time outside the top flight in the 1980s/90s and yet still managed it.

Fact, not myth

But it didn’t really matter. I have lost count of the number of times a peer would ask me who I supported, and 99% of the time their reply to my answer would be “great side to watch”. Now that’s not myth, that’s fact. But the fact is that in the 1980s, Tottenham were by far the best team to watch because they played football like other teams didn’t. For all their domination, Liverpool didn’t have a Hoddle or Ardiles to pull the strings. Everton’s classic team from the mid-80s, relied on the hard work of Trevor Steven, Kevin Sheedy and Peter Reid in midfield and you wouldn’t get any showboating from Andy Gray or Graeme Sharp up-front, or for that matter Derek Mountfield or Kevin Ratcliffe in defence.

We got style

In the modern game, every team worth a damn plays with style. The foreign invasion (arguably kicked off by Spurs signing of Jurgen Klinsmann in 1994), brought with it new ideas, new skills and abilities, new coaching matrixes and a new dawn for English football. Chelsea and Arsenal, teams that used to be choc-full of mediocre British players, are now full of rather good foreign players. Their game has evolved into the one played by Spurs 15 years previous – a passing game, full of panache and quality.

Manchester United have developed a stylish and highly-effective game, mainly through their successful British-youth policy. Similarly, West Ham have turned into a very fluent and watchable side with their British backbone maturing every year. Take a look at Liverpool, the pressing/direct style of the 80s replaced by a cosmopolitan passing game in the 21st century.

And where does that leave Spurs? It leaves Spurs without an angle.

Standing out

If Spurs want to stand out, if they want to be noticed, then they need to challenge at the top. Being the team that everyone wants to play, the side that all fans want to watch, is not going to work anymore. Spurs play a passing game? So what. So do Chelsea. Spurs sign Rebrov. Big deal, United bought Van Nistelrooy. Spurs play the beautiful game and finish 8th? Who cares. Arsenal played the beautiful game and finished 2nd.

How about we reverse the trend and bring back the long-ball – the John Beck Special! Oh hang on, that’s already here.

And finally…

That evil Swedish manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, weaved his black magic on Wednesday to lift a previously dismal English national team to a rousing victory over Spain at Villa Park. Although the Spanish clearly would rather have been on a beach in the Caribbean, the 3-0 demolition job was a shot in the arm for the beleaguered team.

The major talking point has been the degradation of David Beckham’s performances in the last few months. I’ve never been a huge fan of Beckham (evidence of this goes as far back as my second ever internet column in 1998 – I find him very one dimensional – one footed, can’t tackle, can’t head the ball, can’t dribble past players, temperamental (although improving on that front). His strength is his passing, probably the finest passer of the ball in English football since Glenn Hoddle. And in the last two and a half years, he has become a far better player than that of the World Cup in 1998.

But his recent performances have mirrored a man under pressure, and subsequently out of form, at best; at worst, a man suffering from a lack of motivation. To put the captaincy on someone like Beckham is a huge faux-pas. He might be England’s best player (debatable, mind you), but your best player does not necessarily make your best captain.

One of the finest captains I’ve ever seen in action was Gary Mabbutt. The virtually life-long Spurs player was a hero at White Hart Lane, respected by his peers, popular with everyone and committed to the cause.

Beckham might be respected for his footballing ability, but I personally do not believe that he can be respected by those around him in the same way that Mabbutt was. Beckham lives in a fantasy world (not created by him, but ably aided by himself and his celebrity wife it should be said) and jealousy and resentment is very easily amassed over time. His questionable temperament and perceived personal pressures do not bode well for him either.

If England want to prosper through an effective captain, then I believe that Sol Campbell is the most likely man to fill that role. He is starting to mature into a much stronger leader than he looked 12 months ago, and I would deem his personality is more suited to the role than Beckham is.

Strong captain, good tactics, quality young players. It looks like England might be on the way back.


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