Better the devil you know?

Finger pointing

There’s a lot of finger pointing and blame apportioning (is that a word?) going on at White Hart Lane. As the 2003/4 season looks more and more like being the worst one since the 70s, everyone is looking for a scapegoat.

The board are the latest to feel the heat as Spurs sank to an unlucky 0-1 reverse at home to Charlton this weekend. The fans started a “Levy out“ chant – yes the same fans that ushered him in at the expense of Alan Sugar in 2001. Unfair on Levy and ENIC? Well, it’s complicated.

While Spurs fans might have just cause for complaint, I hardly think they have any right to wash their hands of blame in the almighty disaster zone that is Tottenham Hotspur FC. Let’s take a closer look at ENIC’s list of mistakes.

Mistake #1: Sacking George Graham

When ENIC took over from Sugar in 2001, their first act was to rid the club of George Graham. Granted we were sitting in mid table with a bunch of mediocre footballers playing extremely dull football. But on the plus side, we had won a League cup and had just won a thrilling FA Cup quarter-final against West Ham. If you’re going to change that situation, you better have something special lined up.

They believed they did. Because the board now had Spurs fans in positions of power, it was time to live the dream. Graham was sacked on a ridiculously convoluted charge of ‘breach of contract’ and ENIC shuffled down to the South Coast to ask a former England manager if he fancied a return to ‘the big time’.

Mistake #2: Hiring Glenn Hoddle

Those who know me know that I spoke out vociferously against Glenn Hoddle from day one. Leaving aside my personal dislike for him as a human being, I was less than impressed at his mediocre achievements in football management.

I always felt his revolution at Chelsea was something of a misnomer. In three full seasons, he never led them to a top-half finish. In the eight seasons since his departure, they’ve never finished outside the top six. Read in to that however you like. An FA Cup final appearance (in a 0-4 defeat to Manchester United) was an isolated high.

In his final season, the purchases of Mark Hughes, Dan Petrescu and Ruud Gullit were a step in the right direction. But elsewhere the likes of Gavin Peacock, Craig Burley, John Spencer, Mark Stein and £2.3m flop Paul Furlong held Chelsea back. They still only finished 11th.

Exit Hoddle, enter Gullit as manager. In comes Roberto DiMatteo, Gianfranco Zola and Gianluca Vialli. Chelsea have never looked back.

It’s old hat to talk too much about his England career. Great result in Italy to qualify for the 1998 World Cup, but moderate performance in the finals. The infamous World Cup diary and comments about the disabled were an example of his lack of judgment. He said Michael Owen was not a natural goal-scorer and defied the nation by choosing Anderton and Sheringham ahead of Beckham and Owen. The results were already going awry in the Euro 2000 qualifiers when the FA used his ‘disabled’ comments as the perfect opportunity to offload him.

His Southampton achievements were admirable, but he didn’t stay long enough to see how things would have panned out. I have a feeling that we’d have seen a similar trajectory to his Spurs career. If he had succeeded in offloading James Beattie to Crystal Palace for £1.5m, where would Southampton be now?

So what could ENIC have seen in Glenn Hoddle? They saw a chance to win favour with the fans, to ‘live the dream’ (bloody Publicity Pete Ridsdale and his catchphrases). Most fans were blinded by this romanticism, a romanticism that they like to dwell on far too much. Now they had a manager who had achieved an FA Cup final appearance and a Division One play-off victory in ten ears.

Mistake #3: You want to buy who??

After 2000/1 fizzled out with a whimper, Hoddle decided the best way to get Spurs into Europe was to buy experience (or as they are now known, ‘old people’). Gus Poyet and Teddy Sheringham predictably made a great start before (equally predictably) becoming totally knackered in the second half of the season. Big money was questionably spent on Christian Ziege and Dean Richards. Granted, Ziege was an accomplished German international, but his application at Middlesbrough and Liverpool was debatable. Richards was an over-priced pet project of Hoddle’s who has proved to be money wasted so far.

Milenko Acimovic and Goran Bunjevcevic, who turned out to be clearly below Premiership standard, were always going to be a gamble, but the purchase of another player who obviously wasn’t Premiership standard (Jamie Redknapp) was a further nail in ENIC and Hoddle’s coffin. Spending as much time on the treatment table as Darren Anderton (inexplicably offered a new contract) and Ziege, Redknapp has been a huge drain on resources. ENIC should be shot for negotiating a contract that pays a full salary to a player with an injury history like his.

There have been successes. Robbie Keane, although not top class, has been good value for the £7m spent on him (whether or not it was Hoddle’s choice to buy him is open to debate) and Rohan Ricketts has exceeded expectations following his free transfer move from Arsenal.

Mistake #4: Not sacking him in the summer

Last season was dismal. Even Hoddle’s loudest supporters were disillusioned with his seeming inability to build, not so much a Champions-league chasing team, but even a consistent team that played with passion and desire. Hoddle’s Spurs were a shambles and supposedly the only intervention that saved him from dismissal in the summer was a vote of confidence…from David Pleat.

ENIC should have admitted their own failure in appointing Hoddle and got shot of him in June.

Mistake #5: …and then giving him millions to spend

ENIC then made a rock for their back by keeping Hoddle on. They had to be seen to support him and they did so with extensive transfer funds in a depressed market. Eyebrows were raised when they sanctioned the purchase of Helder Postiga from UEFA Cup winners Porto for £6.2m. But even more eyebrows were raised at his next two buys. Not that Bobby Zamora and Freddie Kanouté (combined £5m) were bad value, but rather that the ailing midfield issue had not been addressed. Hoddle still expected to get results with Darren Anderton and Gus Poyet pulling the strings.

Postiga was an expensive luxury that Spurs could ill afford. Maybe if Kanouté and Zamora had been signed in June, ENIC would never have sanctioned the move for Postiga. Maybe we’d have gone for Nicky Butt or Scott Parker instead.

Mistake #6: No Plan B

On one hand you can’t knock ENIC for sacking Hoddle – it was akin to putting a dying dog out of his misery – but to sack him with absolutely no idea who to replace him with? What were they thinking? Did they really think that David Pleat (serial managerial flop) and Chris Hughton (hardly set the world on fire as a coach at Spurs) had the know-how to steady the ship sufficiently?

Mistake #7: Confirming Pleat and Hughton as managers for the rest of the season

Pleat and Hughton had Spurs in a good vein of form when they were confirmed as caretakers until the summer. This of course was followed by four defeats on the spin and a drop into the relegation zone. How motivated are players going to be when they know that they the manager they are playing for this weekend has no say in their futures? Not very, judging by results and performances over the last month.

Lost a good friend

And that’s a list of ENIC’s mistakes as I perceive them. While the fans are right to have a go at Levy – his indecision and eventual choices have been the overriding characteristic of Spurs current situation – there is a certain irony to the fact that his hirers are now his wannabe firers.

Come May 2004, whether or not we find ourselves in the Nationwide League or not, we may look wistfully at Alan Sugar’s final words as Spurs chairman: ‘with all due respect maybe they will reflect that they have lost a good friend’.

Kylie might have been right – better the devil you know.

And finally…

Mr Kanouté has been called up by Mali for the African Nations Cup and indications are that the striker is going to go. Unlikely to ever get the shout for France at full international level, Freddie will no doubt be under pressure by the club to turn down the opportunity. With Spurs in dire straits this season losing Kanouté for a month would be a big blow to our chances of staying up.

I understand the club’s position. They signed Freddie and they pay his wages. They of course want him to be available all season. It’s different to the Sam Allardyce situation at Bolton. He’s moaning non-stop because he is losing Jay Jay Okocha to the same tournament. What’s the difference? Spurs signed a former French U21 international. Sam signed a current Nigerian international. The fact that the African and Caribbean nations tend to have their tournaments during the Premiership season is not a new development. Allardyce is being unfair on Jay Jay who is rightly proud to represent his country.

So Spurs are right to feel hard done by? Yes they are, but at the same time I think they should let Freddie go and wish him well. It’s a great achievement to be called up for international football. Mali are a good side and finished 4th in the Nations Cup last time around and he’ll be a big asset to them. I’ll bite my lip and hope that Postiga and/or Zamora come good and bang in some goals for four weeks.

Not that my hopes are high…

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