My motto in life (and indeed it’ll be my epitaph) is never to be expect too much, rarely look on the bright side and don’t wash behind your ears because no one ever checks (so much wasted time as a child). As the brand new, predictable, but addictive, Premiership season gets ready to launch, Spurs fans all over the world seem to have more optimism than an Aussie batsman needing 3 runs to win with a day and a half left.
But, as the song goes, I’ve been down this road before. I’ve tasted disappointment, chewed on frustration and almost choked on futility.
Spurs line up for the new season is one that is impressive on paper and in the media. They also, for the first time since perhaps Keith Burkinshaw, have a manager that inspires and is trusted by fans. But is it all as golden as it seems?
Our goalkeeping situation couldn’t be much better unless somehow the ghost of (but still extremely talented) Lev Yashin came back. Paul Robinson had a great season last year, proving many of us wrong and probably pissing off Alex Ferguson who decided to keep his two clowns, Carroll and Howard, rather than shell out a minuscule £1.5m fee for Robbo from Leeds. In Radek Cerny, Spurs have able backup – his excellent performance in the Peace Cup final against Lyon showing Spurs fans that they need not fear too much should Robinson be injured or suspended. One might say that Cerny is too good to be on anyone’s subs bench but hopefully he’ll stick around and fight for his place – loss of form can happen so easily for a keeper.
At the back, in the centre
This is where the first holes start to appear. The undoubted quality is embodied in lovely Ledley. The King of White Hart Lane has improved immeasurably over the last couple of seasons, gaining a better reading of the game and improving his positioning dramatically. His partner at the back will come from 34 year-old Moroccan Noureddine Naybet; new signing, from double-relegation side Nottingham Forest, Michael Dawson; one of our longest-serving players, Tony Gardner; relegated while on loan at Southampton, Calum Davenport; or the long shots – Goran Bunjevcevic (the Serbian Norman Wisdom) and up-and-coming giant-in-the-making, Tom Huddlestone.
The most likely partner looks to be Dawson, a 21-year old who may be more in the bracket of Chris Perry than Graham Roberts, but he must be an improvement over the disaster-zone, cult-figure, and much loved (by me anyway) Gary Doherty. Naybet will step in from time to time or take over if Dawson is finding the going tough. If Dawson does become the player that many observers expect him to be, The King-Dawson pairing is young enough to go on for a decade in a Bruce-Pallister type way.
Pat van den Hauwe, Justin Edinburgh, Clive Wilson, Paolo Tramezzani, Mauricio Tarrico. Spurs have not exactly been blessed in recent years with great left-backs. With the formidably average Erik Edman, it’s nice to know we’ve kept the tradition up. Probably our weakest area of the squad, the only back up will come in the shape of Norm and Reto ‘Good for a Young Lad’ Ziegler. However our new signing from Werder Bremen, Paul Stalteri, can reportedly play in 100 positions, full back being one of them. If he is any good (and quite frankly I’d never heard of him), then he may be the preferred choice with the ever-improving Stephen Kelly in the right-back berth. When I see Kelly I think of Stevie Carr’s 21 year old frown, and how awful he was at that age. Remember the 1-4 defeat to Villa where Collymore scored twice? Carr’s performance was tear-inducing that night. But he came back to be a fine performer and one of the most highly-thought of right-backs behind Gary ‘What’s the Big Deal?’ Neville. Anyway, my point? Kelly might turn out to be great so let him play. As for Noe Pamarot, until I saw Atouba in his full-on glory, I thought Noe was the worst player at White Hart Lane since Andy Gray.
I think everyone was optimistic (except for me, natch) before Edgar Davids signed up, but if not, he certainly put everyone at Spurs over the top. The man that I desperately wanted us to sign last summer, he still has plenty to offer even at 32. He’s a natural first-choice, and in my opinion team captain (Ledley can have the club captaincy). Now who plays alongside him is the big question and one that will challenge Jol perhaps until 45 minutes before kick off against Pompey. Take out the stragglers – Michael Brown, Pedro Mendes and Sean Davis – and you’re left with a battle perhaps between Teemu Tainio and Michael Carrick. My personal preference would probably be Carrick on the basis that I’ve not seen that much of Tainio so far. Carrick largely disappointed me last season with his papier-mâché tackling and failure to dig in and get Spurs out of trouble when we needed him. The presence of Davids may allow him to play more his own style, spraying balls around and getting in to the box. But with Davids there you feel that Tainio or Mendes could also prosper alongside him. I think Carrick will have to be at his best to stay in the side.
Wayne Routledge has gotten a bit of stick from Spurs fans prior to his move from Crystal Palace, some of them unimpressed by his final ball or his over-indulgence. What they forget is that young Wayne is 20, ridiculously young. Even Shaun Wright-Phillips was not that highly thought of at 20. His performances in pre-season have been one of the highlights for many fans – an array of tricks, clever passes, pace and penetration. He looks a great talent and if he’s shown some patience can follow in the aforementioned Chelsea winger’s footsteps (although hopefully not to Stamford Bridge Laundry House). Aaron Lennon has been picked up for a song from Leeds and although a big step up for the youngster (he’s 18), hopefully he’ll be ready in a year or two to break in to the team.
On the other side, we have a dilemma. Fellow Irishman he may be, but Andy Reid is overweight and a big question mark. I don’t doubt that the man has talent to burn but whether he ever gets himself in to the shape and state of mind to dish it out is another thing. He’s had some wonderful moments in a Spurs jersey but they are few and far between. If he fails to win over the ever-critical Spurs fans (who could mistake him for present-day Tony Galvin from a distance), he may find himself out in the cold while Reto Ziegler continues from where he impressively left off last season.
I was mistaken about the central midfield dilemma – the biggest problem for Jol will be deciding just who spearheads against Pompey next weekend. It might seem a no-brainer that you pick a pair and then bring on the other pair later or start them in the following game. But Martin needs to determine who his number one pairing is and let them develop a partnership. Chopping and changing to keep everyone happy is only going to end up in fractured form (a la Jermaine Defoe from January onwards last season). Defoe is a phenomenal talent, really one of the finest English players since Owen made his 17-year old breakthrough in the Liverpool team. I would almost pick him over Robbie Keane any day of the week. Robbie is a lovable little tyke but not really consistent enough to be a first-draft pick in the top six of the Premiership. His goal-scoring record is admirable (38 league goals in 83 starts) but the negative aspects of his game (bad attitude, falling over and sitting there with his hands up, letting the ball drift over his head hoping that the defender will miss it too so he can run around the back of him) hold him back in my opinion.
In a Mido v Kanouté debate I fall heavily on the side of the Egyptian. He looks to have lost some weight, got fitter and judging by his two brilliant crosses for Robbie Keane against Lyon, knows how to find a player. Kanouté can be excellent but he only performs that way one for game in three. It’s almost like he needs the stars to be aligned in a certain way to get the best out of him.
But, and this is the real treat, that brings us back to the question – what is the best pairing? If we assume that Mido or Kanouté would play with one of Keane or Defoe, and I rate Kanouté as our fourth best striker, that would automatically make whoever plays best with Mido as the other half of our best pairing.
For me that could very well be Robbie Keane. But then consider Defoe’s two goals against Porto! What a headache.
Our team vs Pompey
Assume I’ve made up my mind (although that’s debatable). If I’m able to play a quick game of Football Manager, here is who I would start (assuming everyone is fit – and according to http://www.physioroom.com, only Noe Pamarot is not available) against Portsmouth:
As to where we’ll finish this season, the optimistic side of me sees no reason why we can’t take fifth or sixth place with maybe Middlesbrough or a surprisingly good Manchester City barging their way up there and giving us a hard time.
But then I remember where I’ve come from and know that realistically we’ll still drop points against struggling sides, be outplayed by the top four and have six first-teamers injured before the end of August.
Oh what the hell – sixth.