In football it’s always good to have a scapegoat. For managers it is usually the referee, sometimes the media or – if you’re Kenny Dalglish – the shadowy hand of conspiracy. For players it is typically the referee, sometimes the manager. For fans it is mostly the referee, sometimes the board, the manager, the players, other fans, the FA, the pundits, the media or Steve McClaren.
In that vein, Spurs fans have had something to throw their hat on in the past 48 hours: an unbelievable decision by Martin Atkinson early in the second half of the Tottenham/Chelsea FA Cup semi-final where a ball that came nowhere near crossing the line was judged to have, well, crossed the line. Chelsea went 2-0 up, Spurs poured forward (somewhat unthreateningly) and Chelsea ran out 5-1 winners.
Emanuel Adebayor and manager Harry Redknapp condemned the referee’s decision – and rightly so. It was ludicrous.
Out of steam
But the cold, harsh reality is that Tottenham have long run out of steam and out of ideas. A Chelsea team, replete with relatively ordinary talent like Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou and semi-retired veterans like Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, survived a couple of first half scares to romp home. Spurs were blunt and jaded.
I wrote last time out about how the end of the season was the right time to say goodbye to Harry Redknapp, Luka Modric and Adebayor. It feels even more true after performances in the three games since (drab 0-0 with Sunderland, ridiculous home defeat to Norwich who succumbed 1-6 to Man City five days later and a thrashing by the weakest Chelsea squad in fifteen years).
I’ve read thoughts from Spurs fans who argue that Petr Cech should have been shown the red card for bundling over Adebayor in the build-up to the Spurs goal (something that doesn’t make sense to me since it was not violent conduct and he didn’t prevent a goalscoring opportunity) and, of course, numerous arguments about how crucial Atkinson’s decision was in the story of the game.
Papering over the cracks
But arguing these points in isolation does not help us identify exactly where Spurs season has begun to unravel. Even *if* the ghost goal had not been given; if Adebayor had been bundled over, Cech was sent off and Spurs scored from the penalty and gone on to win the game, the evidence of the last two months is that the formula is not working any more. Yes, a win might have generated fresh momentum but one feels that Spurs’ shortcomings are numerous: a mixture of tactics, team selection, tiredness and form.
When Redknapp plays the best XI players – a selection that does not include more defensive-minded midfielders like Jake Livermore or Sandro – Spurs get overrun. Sandro may be a six-out-of-ten player, but he and Parker could have been a more effective buffer in front of a ragged back four (a back four which included a center back paring that looked geriatric).
Maybe the blame shouldn’t be just directed at Redknapp. For example, If Daniel Levy refuses to give him the funds he needs to compete – that is, leave him with no choice but to buy ageing reserves like Louis Saha and Ryan Nelsen while Chelsea pony up the money for Gary Cahill – then fair enough. But if it’s just a case that Harry is focusing on an “experience ideology” then it does not appear to be working.
Six months ago Spurs were winning the 50/50s and playing fluidly. Now they are picking up scraps and chasing shadows. And this isn’t just about getting the top four spot – not every fourth place finish is equal. This is about a team that has momentum, that is able to raise their game when it matters, that is capable of defending properly and has a big enough squad with enough young talent to ensure that it is still a force in five years time.
An FA Cup final appearance would not have made this any truer no more than it suggests Liverpool will be contenders next season.
Super Scotty Parker
Maybe he’s not super but he certainly doesn’t deserve the barrage of abuse in the wake of his PFA Player of the Year nomination. He may not be one of the six best players in the Premier League this season but he has been undoubtedly Tottenham’s best and most consistent player. I saw one commenter suggest he’s not even in Tottenham’s top six. This is pure hyperbole – or bollox, to be more precise.