Absence makes the heart grow fonder they say. Well after ten months living in the rather physically and socially isolated environment of New Zealand, I think I can safely say that this is a load of bollocks. Moving 20,000km away from Spurs manager Glenn Hoddle has not made me any more accepting of him on my return.
My initial thoughts on the appointment of Hoddle were ones of dread. His achievements in management were not exactly top draw. Chelsea only really progressed after he left (highest final league position in his three seasons – 11th) and England were decent, but hardly world-beaters, with him at the helm (how did he get that job?).
He got Swindon up? Plenty of managers have got unfashionable clubs up – does that make them prime candidates for the Spurs job? Joe Royle? Paul Jewell? Or how about Ossie Ardiles?
He turned Southampton from a relegation candidate to a top ten club? Gordon Strachan, anyone? Or how about Bryan Robson’s achievements at Middlesbrough or Peter Reid at Sunderland?
These were not top endorsements and were not reasons to believe that Hoddle was the right man. The only reason Hoddle was the right man was because he was the one that the majority of fans wanted, and that the board wanted. I shrugged and figured that because so many people spoke with confidence about him, that he must be a good manager.
His initial signings caused me to balk. Dean Richards was about 5m too expensive. Christian Ziege is a poor professional whose attitude and application leave a lot to be desired. Poyet and Sheringham were big money earners with little to offer past the first twelve months. I was told that Hoddle was gambling on experience to get the club into Europe in his first season. It was a risky gamble and one I felt would not work, leave us in limbo again and see us lose Steve Carr to Arsenal in the summer of 2002.
The first four months of his first full season were a success and it left me backtracking desperately to sing his praises. I also was left to swallow some more pride as Ziege, Sheringham and Poyet actually worked out pretty well. Spurs hovered well inside the top six and ploughed confidently through cup opponents.
But Spurs found their place – ninth in the table and out of Europe once again. One year wasted and it was time to start again.
Hoddle meanwhile was still spouting the usual five-year plan nonsense; the sort of monologue that managers roll out when they want to buy time. It should not take five years to reach the Champions League. A good manager with a resourceful club should be able to slot in behind the top three teams (Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool) and challenge Chelsea, Newcastle and Leeds for that fourth slot. Spurs are nowhere near it.
The fear that Sheringham and Poyet would guzzle resources for minimal return, has come true. Both men are in their mid-thirties and way past their usefulness. It was also Hoddle’s idea to give new contracts to Les Ferdinand and Darren Anderton in 2001. Ferdinand might have finished top scorer last year but who wouldn’t want a more fully functioning and fit forward to lead us into battle each week. Anderton’s season was unspectacular, his abilities deteriorating as time goes by.
Richards has improved this season but his value to the team can hardly be termed as ‘Eight Million’. Jamie Redknapp has been heralded as a great signing, but the occasional player (form and injury permitting) is not likely to turn things around. He’s a typical top-club reject and as usual Spurs took the bait. And speaking of top club rejects, Christian Ziege has settled into his career demeanour of doing very little and trudging around the pitch in a bad mood. Ziege was an awful signing but is typical of Hoddle’s lack of judgement.
Elsewhere, Steve Carr is back from injury but looks as comfortable as George Bush holidaying alone in the Tora Bora caves. There is little doubt in my mind that Carr believes the club are going nowhere with the current regime and he’s going to jump ship at the first opportunity.
Other signings such as Goran Bunjecevic and Milenko Acimovic have not worked out. The Eastern Europeans are competent but not top class players. On the plus side, Robbie Keane, the player Hoddle didn’t want (oh hang on, he did didn’t he?), has been in excellent form. One hopes that he doesn’t regret the move to Spurs as mid-table boredom sets in.
Simon Davies and Matty Etherington have had varied success at Spurs since their move from Peterbrough. Davies has become a star of the Welsh international team and a regular at Spurs while Matty has been in and out of the team. Davies’ poor performances this season though are puzzling.
One might also worryingly glance at the recent form and arguably lack of progression of the likes of Gary Doherty and Ledley King. Both youngsters have undeniable talent but look shaky under pressure since their return from injuries. Doherty may slip into regular reserve team duty with Alton Thelwell soon, but I believe he has the ability to make it if he receives the right coaching. King has been exposed too soon and might need to take a back seat a bit more often and allow the more experienced players like Richards and Perry to play at the back. It’s long been my suggestion that King should be coached into centre-midfield but I believe the player is not keen on playing there.
Is this indicative of a lack of coaching ability on Hoddle’s team? Many people would say that Hoddle’s strength is in coaching and not management, but many young players have failed to perform in the last 12 calendar months. Perhaps it is indicative at a deepening malaise at Spurs? Time will tell.
Scotland and Ireland missed out, rather predictably, on the race to host Euro 2008. What a relief.
Ireland’s efforts were embarrasing with our Taoiseach stuttering out half-promises and vague ideas. Only Lansdowne Road, a seemingly random concoction of seats and concrete, was available on the Irish side. Maybe Croke Park would be used. Possibly. And we might get that new stadium built. Depends on how the Economy performs. Blame the war on terrorism.
The bottom line is that Ireland did not deserve to be awarded such a prestigious tournament. Hopefully it was a kick in the arse for our smug, lazy government.
And as for the ‘Best Fans in the World’? Don’t make me laugh. The fans who overnight turned their back on their manager and danced like working-class rats to the tune played by pathetic Pied Piper, Roy Keane. They don’t deserve it either.
Justice has been done on many levels. Now wheres my suit of armour?