Archive for May, 2014

Much has been made of the managerial minefield that exists under Daniel Levy at Tottenham Hotspur, but I would be hard press to find a single spurs fan that didn’t agree with just about every contract termination during his tenure. Now the argument could well be flipped to point the finger at Daniel Levy and to accuse him in that despite all the good things he has done or is doing for the club behind the scenes, his judgement in appointing head coaches is suspect at least.

Let’s look at this accusation however. What is it now? Ten managers in thirteen years before Pochettino? Well I don’t know about you but I don’t generally get to count “caretaker” managers as permanent appointments. You and I both know that these “caretakers” are holding the fort for someone else so I don’t consider that David Pleat ever was truly “Head Coach” under Levy and neither was the Clive Allen/Alex Inglethorpe collaboration. That basically leaves the managerial graveyard looking like this:

1998 George Graham
2001 Glenn Hoddle
2004 Jacques Santini
2004 Martin Jol
2007 Juande Ramos
2008 Harry Redknapp
2012 Andre Villas Boas
2013 Tim Sherwood

It is clear that in each appointment, Levy has chased the trophy winning coach in order to change the fortunes of the club. George Graham had won trophies at Arsenal and lost his job over a non footballing matter and having laid some pretty good foundations for Arsene Wenger, moved on to an upwardly mobile Leeds United. This was a man with a track record to envy at the time and had it not been for his connections with Arsenal, this would not have divided the Tottenham fan base in the manner that it did. The Man In The Raincoat won us the League Cup in 1999 and I personally think we would have won the FA cup in 2001 under Graham after a thrilling quarter final victory away at West Ham, but with the natives at WHL restless, Levy succumbed and brought in fan favourite Glenn Hoddle to unite and build.

Glenn was my absolute hero growing up. He had some success with Chelsea and became England manager before taking over Swindon and getting them promoted to the Premier League. This was another manager with a proven record of success and Levy sought once more to try and transfer this success to the Tottenham set up. One Carling Cup final defeat later, the poor results in the league could not be masked and Glenn was gone.

Levy persisted with his strategy of employing winners. Jacques Santini helped build Lyon into a major force in France, winning the French title in 2002 before becoming French national coach and before the 2004 Euros could start, Levy made his move and appointed Santini as Head Coach with Martin Jol, a man with a growing coaching reputation, as his assistant. But in a decidedly French strop, Santini was gone, walking out after just 13 games so Jol took over. Not much Levy could do about that, but he backed his original judgement in the coach and Spurs fans started to see real progress under Jol. European football, albeit in the Europa League, was coming back to White Hart Lane and spurs fans were happy. Had it not been for a dodgy lasagne on the last day of the 2005-06 season things would have been even better.

But with Jol hitting some kind of performance ceiling despite being favoured by many of the fans, Levy again wanted a winner and opted to pursue Juande Ramos, who had enjoyed domestic and European success with Seville. The manner in which this change happened left a lot to be desired in all honesty. Never has a manager been so undermined as Jol was in that period, but it was clear that Levy wanted someone in charge that could bring success to WHL and although Ramos did so with the 2008 Carling Cup, that success was the peak that Juande reached as performances and results tailed off significantly after that.

And so Levy appointed Redknapp. Another winner? Not really, but he was the right man for the particular circumstances, but in fairness he had just won the FA Cup with Portsmouth in May 2008 although we won’d dwell on the financial impact on that club. So this was Levy’s first deviation away from seeking a “winner” to take over Spurs. And being an English coach, Levy also went with an English structure. No Director of Football. It’d be just Dan and ‘Arry, and for a while it worked. And although Redknapp had a talented squad at his disposal playing some excellent attacking football, the one Champions League season achieved could not be built upon, partly due to forces outside the control of anyone at the club and partly down to the team regularly struggling in the latter part of seasons. Three disappointing Wembley appearances under Redknapp also didn’t help, but most of all once the relationship between Dan and ‘Arry had broken down, there was no going back,

So on to the next and the recruitment policy changed to a European style once more and Levy went for another “winner” but one that was thought to be young and progressive. AVB had enjoyed domestic and European honours also, with Porto and despite his premature ejection from Chelsea, was considered worthy of another shot by Levy and at the time many Spurs fans probably agreed with him. AVB brought with him a pragmatic Portuguese brand of football that didn’t sit well with the fans and despite a record Premier League points total, and no small thanks to Gareth Bale, Spurs again missed Champions League qualification by one point and still there was no silverware to show for the clubs efforts. The excellent win percentage counted for nothing as more spurs fans grew disillusioned with the playing style and in fairness AVB himself was evidently disillusioned to by the internal politics at the club. Unresponsive team reactions to heavy defeats from supposed Champions League rivals eventually saw his demise too.

In stepped Tim Sherwood, Yosser Hughes like stepping in from the “Black Stuff” looking for a job and Levy succumbed. Sherwood had done exceptionally well with the development team at Spurs but the Premier League is a place where naivety and inexperience at the top level cannot be hidden. And after all, we all knew that he was there only temporarily despite the “12 month option” on his contract. It was only the media that was championing the cause of Sherwood because he was English and he gave them something to write about. The much touted win percentage was held up in his defence whilst the equally high loss percentage was ignored.

During all of this, it has become clear during Levy’s reign that he wanted winners to take the club forward. In the absence of regular Champions League football and the rewards that come with it; and restricted by a stadium capacity of just 36,000, punching above the club’s weight had become the norm and in his eyes a winning manager was all that was needed until all the off the field stuff could bear fruit.

It seems he may have learnt a lesson. Opting not to gamble on unproven up and coming managers like Martinez and Rodgers and since seeing the relative success that has followed for these men and in particular, the manner in which their teams play, he suddenly appears to have put coaching substance ahead of a trophy winning candidate and this can’t be a bad thing.

Pochettino is just that. He wasn’t my first choice either and he may not be the “big name” manager some fans were looking for but where did that ever get us? Levy has realised that success comes initially with happy bums on seats and if Pochettino is loyal to his footballing beliefs, for which there is no reason to doubt, then the hope is that a happy camp at WHL, one that encompasses players and fans will allow the coach time to bring a footballing philosophy to fruition throughout the club and thereby eliminate the fractured strategy (or lack of one) that the club and Levy’s leadership, has been regularly accused of.

Who knows? Perhaps eighteen months down the line all the Spurs fans will be ridiculing themselves once more as the proverbial stuff hits the fan again and we seek another manager/coach, but at least this time it seems that some actual thought has gone into the selection process, and whoever’s advice Levy took this time (definitely not Sherwood’s) a decision has been made on pure footballing grounds. A five year contract would seem to imply that there is a commitment to this decision. Either that or Levy is hedging his bets in case a Barcelona come knocking, but that is just the cynical part of me being a spurs fan.

What did Bill Nick say? That even in defeat there will be an echo of glory? Well it seems that Mr Levy has realised that you can’t just be content to win matches and hope your fans stay awake long enough to see it. Because when you lose playing like that it doesn’t half stink the place out. No. He realises that in fact the game is about playing in style, and whilst Pochettino and the players may not hit the ground running straight away, I for one am prepared to back him and see where it leads us. I think my fellow spurs fans should do likewise and look to lift the mood at White Hart Lane in a positive way.

It’s time for the disenfranchisement, the bickering and the divisions amongst Spurs fans to end. White Hart Lane has always had a special affinity with Argentina and perhaps it is time for that to be rekindled. I wish Pochettino well and come this time next year I hope spurs fans are smiling for the right reasons.

My last post was based on how we can make football in England a little more competitive in the top league given that certain clubs appear to be putting themselves at a significant financial advantage to others and thus diluting the level of pure competition for honours. As I am in a revolutionary mood and given the FA’s recent announcement mooting the idea of a “league three” to accommodate the development/reserve teams of the elite clubs under the banner of supposed betterment of the national team, I thought I would take that revolution a step further.

General consensus seems to be that disrupting the football pyramid that has lasted many years for the sake of supporting the elitism in football still further, is unacceptable and should not be the way forward. It is bad enough that competitiveness has been considerably eliminated by rich clubs stockpiling players to limit the development of other teams, that there can be no justification in forming a league to develop the international (not even national) nabbing of young talent so that they can fester in some development scenario away from coaches that might otherwise have had claim to those young players.

So rather than facilitate such a new league what could be the alternative? Instead of creating an environment where these development squads stayed together it may be best to extend the loan system to ensure that players can get playing time but in an environment that has the added benefit of not cocooning them nor make them feel that they have already “made it” by signing for a top team. I heard someone mention a draft system on the radio the other day and being an avid fan of the NFL and having recently followed the 2014 draft earlier this month, it got me wondering how this would work as a concept in this instance.

Now I understand that the premier league clubs will no doubt want to keep their squads together and manage the player development in their own way, however if they really did want to give the youngsters meaningful playing time, something which the Premier League U21 scheme apparently doesn’t, then we may very well need an alternative option to the proposed “League 3”.

So back to the draft concept. Perhaps we could argue that Premier league clubs could make their development players available to League 1 and League 2 teams? Those aged 17-18 could be available for selection by League 2 clubs; and those between the age of 19-21 could be available to teams from League 1. Not all players would have to be entered into the draft by the parent clubs and therefore players of any age not entered into the draft will be available for standard individual loans as at present. The draft could occur during the first week of June so that these young players will have time to report back for pre-season training with their new squads.

Once drafted, the players can stay at these clubs for one or two seasons at the choice of the parent club and must feature in at least 50% of the competitive games of the drafting team. This will ensure that teams only draft players that they feel will accommodate an actual playing need for their squad and serve a development purpose for the player. The player’s wages will still be paid by the parent club.

Integrating some of these youngsters into the lower league set up might also give them an insight into the lower reaches of football and help build character and appreciation of what they would otherwise have once they do actually “make it”. One big gripe from today’s fans centres around the attitude of these young lads and giving them too much too soon diluting appetite and willing.

We can argue the merits and actual mechanics of how this would work and we could in the end dismiss this as a notion altogether, however if the Premier League academies are not developing players at the pace they would like and if the route to the first team is constantly blocked for these young players then they need to ply their trade somewhere and they will all gradually find their level.

This is a complex topic to consider of course and I do not maintain that this is fool proof, however there may be some merit in developing a workable solution in some other way as opposed to creating League 3 and killing the aspirations of clubs further down the pyramid.

On a further note, I would like to see the loan system overhauled. Loaning of players by Premier League clubs to other Premier League clubs should be prohibited unless that player can play against the parent club. Too many teams are, as mentioned previously, stockpiling players safe in the knowledge that were they to loan them out the player is actually still representing the parent club indirectly by playing against all other teams bar them. This is wholly wrong and unfair and I am glad that UEFA recently allowed Thibaut Courtois to play against Chelsea in the Champions League. It was a correct decision. If this doesn’t change then clubs will continue to stockpile players and players will be happy to sign for the likes of Chelsea and pick up a large pay packet safe in the knowledge that at the very least they will get regular football elsewhere.

If Premier League clubs were only allowed to loan players to Championship clubs, then this should also make the players think twice about signing for a Premier League team, with whom regular football cannot be guaranteed and where they feel that they are good enough to compete in the Premier League.

If money really is the root of all evil as some say, then it is clear that it is certainly affecting the footballing landscape in a less than pleasant way. Those that have it are pulling further away from those that don’t have it, or from those that have it to a much lesser degree and we are already seeing a situation where the same teams will continue winning the domestic and European honours because everyone else is just making up the numbers.

Perhaps it is time for revolution.

There was a time when football used to be competitive in the top league. OK Liverpool had a spell of prolonged dominance in the seventies and eighties and Man Utd subsequently, but the eventual title successes were on occasion perforated with other teams that believed they had a chance and, where the playing field was such, that it could allow a team like Nottingham Forest to jump a division, win the 1st division title in back to back seasons and enjoy European Cup success.

Now I am not naïve enough to believe that those that could spend the most didn’t succeed the most and after all Forest themselves signed the first £1m player in Trevor Francis and Tottenham Hotspur almost made Jimmy Greaves the first £100,000 player (but opted to knock £1 off the transfer fee – and no Daniel Levy wasn’t about back then). However, it was possible for clubs to compete and the wealth was evenly distributed. Steve Daley became a £2m player for City (who weren’t backed by oil money back then) but even so it was possible to compete.

All you needed was a good manager; good players (of course) and the backing of a local wealthy businessman. But in the early 90’s all this changed. The Premier League was invented and with the advent of satellite television and pay per view TV the landscape changed overnight. Those that were ready for it took advantage. Clubs like Man Utd and Arsenal were well run and grew with the new structure. Clubs like mine at White Hart Lane were too busy in fighting and trying to cope with recent near bankruptcy to be properly aware.

Things were aggravated further when the much talked about European Super League eventually became a reality and the Champions League was established. Fuelled by more money from additional broadcasting revenues it integrated European Football and widened the gap between the “have’s” and the “have not’s”. The Bosman ruling meant that player’s contracts were barely worth the paper they were written on, and therefore more of this money was needed to entice players to remain at clubs and ended up in players pockets: nothing has changed since. It has only got worse. No longer was the local wealthy business man able to invest in the local team. You had to be a multi-millionaire, or an investment company! This soon transitioned into the need for a billionaire owner and subsequently oligarchs and oil barons. Competitiveness flew out of the window. Harry Enfield’s “loadsamoney” caricature had arrived in football and they were swinging one almighty wad of cash.

So what’s the prize now in the top league? Is the game really still about Glory? Teams forego silverware so that they can continue to sit at the top table and bury their snouts at the trough of elitism. £52m per club in 2013/14 just for being in the Premier League. Add to that prize money dependant on finishing position and add to that more money dependant on how many times your team appeared in a live televised game and ADD TO THAT more millions for partaking in the Champions League. And yet more money pours into player’s bank accounts, agents trimmings and company dividends, whilst fans are being ripped off at the turnstiles, ripped off with their TV subscriptions and being asked to pay £90 for a replica shirt. Yet we keep going back for more because we as fans believe that this next season will be the one. The one where we can compete and achieve, yet we know in reality the chances are slim but we won’t admit it to ourselves.

So off the back of this bleak landscape of the chosen few; The Sky Four; The Newspaper Adored; how can the Premier League remain competitive at the top? How can teams like Everton, Tottenham, Newcastle and even Arsenal and Liverpool have any real hope of challenging the richest teams on a regular basis. They can’t can they? Not really. Not when the footballing behemoths from around Europe restrict your competitiveness as soon as you start putting a competitive team together by throwing more money at your best players and promising them realistic hope of glory as glory is now sadly only achievable for a few. Unless all of these teams hoping to compete are taken over by Oligarchs, the only thing that you can do to maintain competitiveness is to open a door to the Champions League. The “top four” needs to become the “top six”.

It is clear that Manchester City, Chelsea and Man Utd are locked in for top four finishes due to their resources. “Ah” I hear you say. “But Man Utd finished seventh last season and Chelsea sixth a couple of seasons before”. But dear friends these were mere aberrations. It did not take Chelsea long to restore order and neither will it take Man Utd to do likewise, and if like Chelsea you can fluke a Champions League triumph in the meantime, so what? No. As it stands there are currently three or four clubs competing for ONE Champions League spot each season, and given Arsenal’s propensity to qualify even when the odds are stacked against them then we may as well just call it from the season’s opening day. We only have to predict the order.

What we could probably do with are play offs. Yes. There I said it. Now I have never really been an advocate of the play off principle, however the way that the Premier League has panned out it seems that we have no other real alternative to create competition and redistribute wealth to try and gradually level that playing field once more. This may sound ridiculous (as all initial ideas are at times) but we can choose to have the teams finishing 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th to play off for the final Champions League spot, or we can take it a step back and have 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th playing off for two champions League spots. The top three in the first scenario and top two in the second, qualify automatically. The first scenario is probably more likely initially and will extend interest and value to the top seven positions in the Premier League. Finishing fourth will no longer be better than winning a trophy.

I can hear journo’s now gasping in shock and horror that anything should upset the apple cart for the teams that they enjoy writing about. But if nothing is done the premier league will become stale. We will get the occasional exciting title race between two clubs and some sadistic excitement at the relegation dogfight but the rest of the division will be an irrelevance which grabs the attention only during the transfer window and again when the managerial merry go round kicks in.

Other countries in Europe (albeit smaller football nations in the main) use the play off option for Champions League qualification and it seems to work. So why not here? Or are we all just content with the status quo, and are we resigned to the fact that teams that were languishing in the Premier League like Manchester City and Chelsea can suddenly have an infusion of money to such a degree that they can become the best in the land? The game is about competitiveness, or at least it should be. It’s about playing for something. It’s not just the taking part that should count and something needs to be done.

That said if you are a Spurs fan like me then no doubt we’d start finishing 8th and missing out by one point!!