[Editor’s note: Today is the final day of the qualifying round for Euro 2012. John Lally provides us with a rundown of which of today’s 22 fixtures actually matter for qualification. Click through the “Group X” headings to see the group standings on UEFA’s site, click thru the hyperlinked fixtures for further TV info and match previews on livesoccertv.com]
Group A: Germany vs Belgium (1pmET ESPN2, ESPN Deportes,ESPN3.com) & Turkey vs Azerbaijan (1pmET, foxsoccer.tv): Germany already topped the group, Belgium is but a single point above Turkey in race for playoff spot. Turkey should win at home against Azerbaijan, meaning Belgium has to go into Dusseldorf and win against their powerful neighbors.
Group B: Republic of Ireland vs Armenia (1:45pmET ESPN3.com) – If Armenia win, they get the playoff spot, an Ireland win or draw gives them second place (Russia is in 1st place only 2 points Irealnd them but have a gimme against Andorra at home)
Group C: Serbia vs Slovenia (2:45pmET foxsoccer.tv) – Serbia need a win for the playoff spot, if they lose or draw, Estonia take that (Italy already won the group)
Group H: Denmark vs Portugal (2pmET ESPN3.com, tape at 7pmET on ESPN Deportes)- If Denmark win, they top the group, else Portugal do. Most likely group for 2nd place auto-qualifier to come from anyway
Group I: Spain vs Scotland; Lithuania vs Czech Republic – If Scotland match Czech result, they go into playoffs, if they lose gain few points, Czech Republic take 2nd place. Given that Czechs should beat Lithuania, Scotland has to win against the defending World Cup and Euro champions on their home turf (in Alicante, on the Mediterranean in the southwest of Spain)
There are two big races that will be decided next year: Premiership Champions and the 2012 Presidential election. Though very different contests, each is important to people on either side of the Atlantic and the runners and riders in them are not too dissimilar either.
The Reigning Champions – Manchester United/Barack Obama
The ones to beat – the Championship Belt is fastened around their waists. But, as Shakespeare said:
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown
Henry IV, Part II
Sick and tired, and facing rebellion, King Henry IV is feeling the weight and pressures of his position, something with which the current President will be very familiar, not least in the last few months. Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United have been in this position many times before and are used to such expectations. The strengthening of their squad over the summer shows the desire to repeat, and Obama would do well to try and emulate the Ashley Young signing by United – it’s shifted their focus squarely to the Left Wing.
The New Pretenders – Manchester City/Michele Bachmann
At some point in the 1990s, City were dwelling in the third tier of English football and Michele Bachmann was working for the Inland Revenue Service. Fast-forward to 2011 and the blue half of Manchester is the richest club in the world, backed by Abu Dhabi oil money, and Congresswoman Bachmann is a front-runner for the GOP Nomination, espousing “take-from-the-poor-to-give-to-the-rich” taxation policies – making her a modern day Dooh Nibor (that’s a reverse Robin Hood). Having been previously defensively minded, Roberto Mancini has added the magnificent and entertaining Sergio Aguero to his squad for this season – meaning it will be hard to know exactly where City’s focus will be this season, defence or attack. Of course, it’s often difficult to fathom exactly where Michele Bachman is focusing too.
The “Haven’t we seen this before?” – Chelsea/Rick Perry
Back in 2004, the President of the United States who was running for re-election was George W. Bush – the charismatic former Governor of Texas, father of two, former Air Force Pilot. Now we have the 2011 version, Rick Perry – the charismatic Governor of Texas, father of two, former Air Force Pilot, with similar ideologies, mannerisms and way of speaking to Bush. In 2004, Chelsea’s new manager was a suave, young Portuguese guy who had come from Porto on the back of European success, in 2011, Andre Villas-Boas has come in with an almost identical resume. I’m not the first to make the Villas-Boas/Mourinho comparison, but I will point out one crucial difference. Mourinho came into the Premiership with much gusto, declaring himself “The Special One” and his huge ego would have been critical in his garnering respect in the dressing room. Villas-Boas does not have the same type of arrogance, a fact that could lead his tenure at Chelsea to be more comparable with Scolari’s short spell as manager at Stamford Bridge than Mourinho’s.
The Believers – Arsenal/Ron Paul
For years, pundits and journalists have been waxing lyrical about the the beauty of the football played by Arsenal under Arsene Wenger’s stewardship, but that praise always comes with a caveat – too lightweight/need a new goalkeeper/central defender. Unmoved, Wenger will go into the transfer market and find a 17 year old midfield prodigy with an eye for a pass and quick feet – never wanting to change his philosophy or do anything as base as sign a decent keeper. In the same way – Libertarian Ron Paul will not pander to the populace and alter his views to garner more votes. Though he is favoured by younger Republican voters, Congressman Paul is widely ignored by the media and never considered a serious candidate for the GOP Nomination – even after coming a close second to Congresswoman Bachmann in the Iowa Straw Poll last weekend. While their consistency of belief should be applauded*, it will be to the detriment of Arsenal and Paul’s chances of winning the league/nomination in 2012.
*Probably the only time I will give any level of praise to Arsenal/Wenger this whole season
The 1980s Redux – Liverpool/Mitt Romney
My first memories of football are from the 1980s, when Liverpool were the dominant force. Managed by Kenny Daglish, they were competing year after year for the title and the FA Cup – this was a time when Manchester United had not won the league since 1968, Chelsea were a joke, attracting fewer than 9,000 to their home games, and the President of the United States was former actor and Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. Himself a former Governor (of Massachusetts), Mitt Romney is like a throwback to that era – when only rich white men could realistically hope to be President. (Now we have 1 out of 43 men/44 Presidents* to give a modicum of diversity to the ranks). With the common perspective of both Reagan and Romney being strong on the economy (something you would probably disagree with if you had lost your job under President Reagan, or been fired by one of Mitt Romney’s consulting companies), the soap-opera looks and the comfortable speaking manner, there is a chance that the United States of America will have it’s first Mormon President elected next year. And, with Daglish back at the helm at Anfield, he will be hoping to return the League Championship trophy back to Liverpool for the first time since 1990, in the process regaining a tie with Manchester United for all-time league titles.
*President Numbers 22 and 24: Grover Cleveland – one man, two Presidencies.
The Never Going to Happen – Tottenham/Bernie Sanders
Neither of them are actually even in the race, but in my perfect world, they would be my winners. If Senator Bernie Sanders is too much of a reach, I would like to see that guy who was running on the Democratic ticket back in 2008, that Senator from Illinois with the message of “Hope” and “Change you can believe in”…I wonder what happened to him.
I have to say, I have empathy for the looters. When you see no other option for survival, I totally understand the mindset of trying to obtain what you need to live. Of course, I’m talking about those who tried to loot food and water in Somalia – not the idiots in London right now who are stealing televisions, clothing and anything else they can get their hands on.
This is not something I wanted to be writing about – my intention this week was to give a Premiership preview with some analysis of where each team stood. Instead, I’m spending my time reading reports about London, a city I lived in for nearly 8 years, being in flames and destroyed by rioters. I just wanted to offer a few thoughts about these events and will then provide a very brief prediction for the new season, whenever it may start.
Nominally, this all started because a man was killed in Tottenham, North London, by a police officer. There are conflicting stories about the events that lead to this death, and they will come out in the investigation, but I think it’s important to recognise this has nothing to do with that event at this point. There was a peaceful protest from the family of Mark Duggan, the man who was killed, requesting more information from the police, but for people to use that as a reason for this mindless violence and destruction is a complete fallacy. Whatever happened in that incident, I feel great sympathy for the family of Mr. Duggan, and for the police officers who were involved in the incident. If mistakes were made on either side, it would be difficult enough to come to terms with – to have the event be referred to as the catalyst of all this rioting must exacerbate it greatly.
Trying to work out the true reason for these riots is much more difficult – obviously economic downturn and a hot summer are contributing factors, but there are plenty of other places where those issues exist and people manage to get along without rioting. The British National Party (the BNP – an extremist, racist group) will try and blame the influx of ethnic minorities to the country – indeed last night their Chairman and (somehow) Member of the European Parliament Nick Griffin tweeted that “In all the radio and TV Interviews I’ve heard from London, I’ve only heard one real London accent” – as if talking like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins* would abate any trouble. Griffin is doing his best to turn this into race riots, my fear is that he is going to be successful. Thus far, from what I have seen the looters/rioters/arsonists/criminals/twats have been from every ethnic background – a potential descent into a race riot makes this all the more frightening.
*I’m kidding, his accent was terrible
One final point I would like to comment on, is the idea that those who are rioting are doing so because of poverty. I know everything is relative, but there are real issues in East Africa right now, famine is killing tens of thousands of people and it is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Idiots in the UK are grabbing the headlines with their mindless violence, in the US everyone is focused on the economy and the amount of money companies were worth went from ‘a helluva lot’ all the way down to ‘slightly less than that’; meanwhile people are starving to death. These people have real problems, not ones created by bickering governments or opportunistic thugs – danger to ordinary people in the UK is very real now, I’m saying it is completely needless and could be stopped in an instant if the rioters realised the error of their ways. The same is not true in the Horn of Africa, the situation is tragic and they need our help. If you can, donate to help to those most in need.
Walter White would understand it at least. He knows all about the the curse of wanting more, that however much you have, it’s just never enough. Yes, Spurs’ player of the year for 2010-11 Luka Modric, now reminds me of the meth cooking protagonist of AMC’s Breaking Bad (returning on Sunday for season 4).
In the first episode of the second season of Breaking Bad, Walter White works out exactly how much money ($737,000) he would need to make, in order to provide for his family if he is unable to beat lung cancer. However, by midway through season
3, he has abandoned all plans to limit his expedition into the world of narcotics production and is working full time for a drug-king-pin-slash-chicken-frier in Albuquerque. Why? Because, whether or not Walt had convinced himself that he was only in it to ensure his family would be taken care of in the event of his death, the money and the power that came with being the best meth cook around was a feeling he wanted to chase.
Luka Modric has recently put in a transfer request in order to try and force through a move to Chelsea, a deal that has currently not been agreed upon as the Stamford Bridge club has not matched Tottenham’s valuation for their star midfielder. Last year, Modric signed a contract with Spurs until 2016, a commitment he no longer wishes to honour. Despite still having 5 years left to run on the deal, it is highly unlikely Modric will still be a Tottenham player by the time the new season begins in August. So why does he want to move? In his words, he wants to play for a “big club like Chelsea, compete in the Champions’ League and have the chance to win trophies”. Or to put it in simpler terms, because they will pay him more money and, the more exposure he has on the biggest stage, the bigger star he can become. Luka Modric, Croatia’s answer to Walter White.
The only part of Modric’s reasoning I can understand or accept, is that he wants the opportunities to win trophies. This is part of what has been ruining modern football, people no longer value winning things over all other measures of success. Nowadays, all that is talked about is finishing in the top 4 of the Premier League in order to qualify for the Champions League. Why is this important? So you can attract the best players to come to your team which will mean you can stay in the top 4 and continually play in Europe’s top competition. I understand why this is important to a club’s Chairman, or shareholders, but why are players simply interested in taking part? Merely playing in the Champions’ League is irrelevant if you do not actually win the trophy. I say this having fully enjoyed Spurs’ exploits in Europe last year, taking on the top clubs, but if this becomes an annual event and goes no further, I do not see how this is a measure of success. What goes in the trophy cabinet, a framed
copy of the end of season “League Ladders” showing the top 4 finish? Yet season after season, this is all that is talked about. Honestly, I am excited for Tottenham to be in the Europa League next year, as I believe we have a fantastic opportunity to win it – the same would not have been true in the Champions’ League.
Or at least, we would have had a great chance to win the Europa League, if one of our star players did not want to jump ship and try and win things the easy way. It’s similar to LeBron James, who could have stayed in Cleveland and tried to win a Championship the right way, show loyalty to his team and help them build something with him as the lynch pin. Instead, James went to join his buddies in South Beach and Modric wants to go to a “bigger club” like Chelsea. When I break it down, that’s the part that really bothers me – to think that people now consider Chelsea a big club. In the late 1980s, when Chelsea were struggling in the top flight and were relegated to the old Division Two, they were struggling to pull in an average crowd of 8,000 a week. Now they have some success and the place is full of “life-long Cheslea fans” – Spurs fans, of course, are always happy to remind them of their bandwagon jumping singing “Where were you when you were shit?” at them. But for a lot of football fans now, who think that the league started in 1993 with the advent of the Premiership, Chelsea are one of only 4 teams to win the title. For those with even shorter term memories, Chelsea have indeed been in the Champions League every single year (since 2003/4). When they are reflecting back on this era of Chelsea’s history (wanted to put that in quotation marks but even I will avoid being that snarky!), they should put a statue outside of Stamford Bridge not of money man Roman Abramovich, or the man who built their first title Jose Mourinho, or Assistant Referee John Terry, but of Jesper Gronkjaer.
On the last day of the 2002/3 season, Chelsea and Liverpool faced each other in a battle for 4th place, the Scousers needing a win to snatch that place from their London rivals. The game was won for Chelsea by Jesper Gronkjaer, who put in the cross for Desailly to score the first goal, and then scored the winner in the final 10 minutes, the match ending 2-1. That match was the catalyst for all of Chelsea’s success – and that is not an imagination. A few months later, Chelsea were within 5 days of going into administration, having overspent in the pursuit of glory. Roman Abramovich, Russian billionaire, was looking for an English Premier League club to invest in, because of their location in London and their status as having qualified for the Champions League, he stepped in and saved Chelsea and the rest, unfortunately, is a very successful history – 3 league titles, 3 FA Cups, a League Cup and a Champions League Final they would have won, if John Terry could take a penalty. (Things I love about that clip – the way the commentators are going on about “Mr Chelsea” and what a great leader Terry is, as the man himself is adjusting his Captain’s Armband to ensure the Big “C” is visible; and the shot of all the Chelsea players arm-in-arm united to the death…until he misses and then it’s every man for himself and the hugging is gone – brilliant).
I get it, Chelsea are now probably what everyone would define as a bigger club than Tottenham, because money talks. But just money is not why I watch the game, it’s not what gets me excited. Manchester City did fantastically well to qualify for next year’s Champions League – and will probably do very well in it as they can buy all the players they want – but who will enjoy watching their matches. City play really boring, negative, effective football – last year Tottenham were widely lauded for their gung-ho approach to these games. At times it may have been to the detriment of the result (the 4-3 loss against Inter, the away leg in the Madrid tie), but there was never a time when you would want to turn over if Spurs were playing in the Champions League. If success is finishing in the top 4 and grinding out results, well other people can have their success. My favourite Spurs players have never been the most effective ones – for example, Ginola would go missing in away games, but when he had the ball, the crowd rose in anticipation as they knew he could produce magic at any time. Negative tactics of any form, time-wasting, play acting, sitting back and not attacking, all frustrate me and make me lose interest in a game. I wish players wanted to stay at a club and fight for their shirt and show loyalty to a team that has invested time and money into them – instead of looking to leave as soon as a more attractive offer came in for them
But, Modric wants to Break Bad – to go to the dark side and move for money and to one of our rivals despite having signed a contract with Tottenham just 12 months ago. Well I just hope he does not have the same influence on our younger, impressionable players and encourage Bale to do the same, in the way the Walt lead Jesse down a dark path.
Following on from my end of the season thoughts, and given that posters and flyers all over NYC are declaring Doomsday this Saturday, around 6pm, I thought I should sum up the best and worst of the entire history of football, dating back to when I started watching and including only games that I have seen.
Best player (Spurs)
Has to be David Ginola. Far and away the most entertaining player I’ve ever seen in a Spurs shirt, every time he got the ball the whole crowd would hold their collective breath to see what would come next.
Best player (non-Spurs)
Has to go to Cristiano Ronaldo; he would torment defenders, infuriate the crowd with his playacting antics, but normally end up scoring or setting up goals and lead his side to victory. His showboating was fantastic, until you had to watch Gary Doherty be the last line of defence between Ronaldo and the Spurs goal.
Best Player I wish I’d seen live
Zinedine Zidane, just beating out Messi, and with the added wish that I had appreciated him while he was still playing. The best player in a France team I couldn’t support due to an unnervingly high number of Arsenal players in it, Zidane lead them to victory in the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 tournaments. Skilled, majestic, arrogant, Zidane had it all – then ended his career by headbutting Materazzi. Brilliant.
Worst Player (Spurs)
Unfortunately, there is a lot of competition for this but, top of the heap, or bottom of the pile, is Grzegorz Rasiak. He was signed right as the transfer window closed in August of 2005, and left in February 2006, but not before Spurs fans got incredibly frustrated with his lack of ability and effort – culminating in us having to implore him just to “JUMP!” in a league game at Fulham. Absolutely rubbish.
Worst Player (non-Spurs)
This goes to nobody, as Tottenham always seem to bring out the best in opposition players. In a build up to a game, if a player is mentioned as not having scored in x number of matches, or the team is without a win in so long, you can guarantee Spurs will conspire to break that streak.
I have been lucky enough to go to quite a few different stadiums and I’d rank them into three different categories:
The Good: Newcastle, Man City (City of Manchester Stadium), Arsenal (Highbury), Braga, Fulham, Bolton, Burnley, Leyton Orient, Old Wembley
The Average/Boring: Blackburn, Wigan, West Brom, Charlton, Oxford (Manor), Leicester, QPR, Swindon, Nottingham Forest, Oldham, Slavia Prague, NY Red Bulls
The Ugly: Cheltenham (Lower league granted, but so are Leyton Orient), Chelsea (How about a stadium where I can see from every seat?), Southampton (Bad infrastructure surrounding a boring new ground) and Portsmouth (How about a roof? You didn’t know it might rain?)
The winner: Well call me biased, but it has to go to White Hart Lane. Inconveniently located nowhere near an Underground station, bad food options and not a big enough capacity, but undoubtedly – home.
Remember, remember the 5th of November…2006, Spurs 2 Chelsea 1. Tottenham’s last league win over Chelsea had come a year before Harold Camping’s last prediction of when Judgement Day was to be (he claimed September 6th, 1994, followed by realising he’d failed to carry the 1 or something). The game was a close fought battle, saw John Terry sent off, and was won with a great Aaron Lennon goal. The only disappointment, no journalist asked the question of the Chelsea captain “So, what DID you say to Ledley King?”
There’s a whole slew of 4-0 defeats to Manchester United or Blackburn that could take this, but I think it will have to go to the 1-0 loss at Southampton in 2004. As mentioned, the stadium was appalling, it took ages to get out of it afterwards, Spurs played terribly and then we still had a long drive home.
Most annoying aspect of Doomsday being day before end of the Premier League Season
Not being able to see Spurs beat Birmingham and send them and Stephen Carr down to the Championship…still have not forgiven him for saying he wanted to play for a “big club” when he moved to Newcastle.
Manager who is most likely to believe he will be Raptured
Best International Tournament
I really enjoyed Italia ’90 until England’s penalty loss to Germany. I really enjoyed Euro ’96 until England’s penalty loss to Germany…etc and so forth. I think the best overall would be World Cup 2002, mainly because I got to watch it after I’d finished with University and before work began, but it was a really entertaining tournament also. Even watching the final on a small television in my cousins’ kitchen in the middle of nowhere, Northern California, at 4am, did not dampen my enjoyment of it. I really enjoyed World Cup 2010 too, something that was made much easier by my supporting of England ending in 2006 at the exact same moment that John Terry was made captain (for reason, see the aformentioned unasked question)
Best Goal (Spurs)
1. Ginola vs Barnsley (March 1999):
2. Kanoute vs Everton (October 2003)
3. Defoe vs Arsenal (November 2004, might have been top had we not lost the game)
Best Goal (Non-Spurs)
Way too many to choose from but this one from Argentina against Serbia in the 2006 World Cup stands out above all others:
Most Random place to watch an embarassing Spurs defeat
A second floor bar in Port El Kantaoui, Tunisia, for Spurs’ loss to Grimsby in the League Cup in September 2005.
My Favourite Spurs XI
Thorstvedt, Carr (before he left), Mabbutt, King, Tarricco, Anderton, Hoddle, Van der Vaart, Ginola, Defoe, Klinsmann
So that’s it, good luck with Doomsday and all that. One day next week, I’ll give my thoughts on Sunday’s games and the countdown to the next predicted End-of-the-World-Which-Won’t-Actually-Happen on December 21st 2012.
As we draw towards the close of another Premiership season, I wanted to offer a few random thoughts about how things have played out and, of course, a view on Tottenham Hotspur’s year.
One of the things that has been creeping into conversations I have had recently with fellow Spurs fans, is the desire to avoid being in the Europa League next season, preferring to miss out on Europe all together. The idea is, without the distraction and tiredness that extra games in the Thursday Night Cup would bring, Tottenham would be more likely to challenge for a Champions League place next season. First time I heard this, I did not think it was an unreasonable position to take. However, a couple of issues have made me change my mind – mainly, the idea that qualifying for the
Champions League is in itself more preferable to being in a competition we could potentially win. Braga and Porto (Europa League finalists this season) are good teams but nothing for Spurs to fear given their wins this season over Milan and Inter. Merely being in the Champions League without a realistic shot at winning the trophy, is not better than triumphing in the Europa League. While you can attract better quality players once in the Champions League, a complete lack of European football next season, combined with highly lucrative contract offers being available at other clubs who have qualified like Manchester City and Chelsea, would result in Tottenham struggling to improve their squad enough to be in contention for a top four place next year anyway. Harry Redknapp has already stated that it will be very difficult for us to overtake Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, and will be up against Liverpool who are attempting to do the same, so why is it assumed that less games will be the key. Admittedly, last season a lack of European football meant that Spurs were able to focus on the League and gain fourth place, but they benefitted mostly from the decline in form of Liverpool that year. The biggest step forward Tottenham have made in the last 10 years was in 2005/2006 when they qualified for the UEFA Cup through the League, the first time that had been achieved by Spurs in over 20 years. And that’s the other thing, I really enjoyed that campaign in the 2006/2007 season, everything about it: getting to sing “We’re all going on a European Tour”, the away trips to Prague, Germany and, best of all, Braga (photo above was our seats, adjacent to the mountainface), the home games and the atmosphere at the start of the second half against Sevilla when the fans willed the team back into the tie (unsuccessfully in the end, but it was still a great moment). I have the scarves, the photos and the memories from those trips I made with my sister (and 4,000 other Spurs fans) and it’s given me a real affinity for the competition. While this year might have been a letdown in the end for Tottenham, with too many draws and bad results against lower placed teams (2 points out of 12 from games against Blackpool and West Ham) costing us a place in next season’s Champions League, qualifying for the Europa League would be a satisfactory ending.
The Championship & FA Cup
Manchester United won their record 19th League title this weekend, the same day as their cross-city rivals won their first trophy in 35 years as City took the FA Cup. For the blue half of Manchester, it was a just reward for their fans who stuck with them even when they dropped to the third tier of English Football and still turned out in their numbers every week to support their team. Overall though, City are a boring side to watch and I am not going to be making any efforts to catch their Champions League games next year. There was a nice reminder of City’s recent struggles on Saturday, as they were facing Stoke City, managed by Tony Pulis who was the boss at Gillinhgam in 1999 when they played Man City in the League One (old Division Three) playoff final. In that game, City were 2-0 up with virtually no time left to go, only for Gillingham to somehow come back and score twice, going on to win on penalties. When the two sides met again in a later season, the Gillingham fans taunted their opposite number with “Two Nil, and you $%*#ed it up”, but the City fans reminded those who had given up and missed the ending with a retort of “Two Nil, and you all went home”. Congratulations Manchester City fans, Mancini and Mansour, not so excited for you.
Sir Alex Ferguson and United also finally reached a peak they had been desperate to reach on Saturday, when they overtook Liverpool for most amount of English League titles. Their dominance since 1993 has been incredible and they won the league this year thanks to incredible home form and by outlasting the other contenders at the end. But the biggest thing for me about this win, was it provided another example of fans carrying out practical jokes at the expense of their rivals. At the beginning of Sunday’s game between Liverpool and Spurs, some United fans went into the ground and unfurled a banner reading “M.U.F.C 19 Times” during the chorus of “You’ll never walk alone” at Anfield (plus some extra spies in their to get the photographic proof of it). This has come hot on the heels of Blackpool taunting Preston North End as the latter fell out of the Championship and into the third tier of the English Leagues. During their final home game, Preston fans were subjected to a plane flying over with a message saying “Poor Little Preston Enjoy League One” and then again “We are Superior Love Blackpool FC”. Fans looking to get away from it all by watching a game-show got another reminder, when a Blackpool supporting producer of the British show “Countdown” slipped this anagram into the final conundrum round – PNECRISIS (PNE = Preston North End, the answer is the end of this column!) I feel like I’m making this up…but then again on Sunday, within minutes of Wigan scoring an equaliser which meant West Ham would be relegated, a plane carrying a message of “Avram Grant – Millwall Legend” flew over the DW Stadium – the Hammers manager clearly only welcome in that part of London now, given that he was sacked moments after relegation was confirmed with the final whistle in that game. So long as it stays harmless fun-poking, I am all for this banter between fans of rival clubs.
The Relegation Battle
Although West Ham fans really dislike Tottenham, I have to admit I am sad to see them relegated again from the Premiership. They are a club with a lot of history and they really should be a top flight team, but once more they are going down with a squad with a vast amount of talent. I do not have any sympathy for the owners, Gold and Sullivan are certainly not a likeable pair, but the fans deserve better. When the fixture list comes out each year, Tottenham’s games against West Ham are definitely among those that I look for, and definitely are of more interest than games against Birmingham, Wolves or Wigan (unless we beat the latter 9-1 again). With an Olympic Stadium to fill in the near future, it is imperative for the club that this demotion is not a length one. While many Spurs fans will celebrate the Claret and Blue being knocked out of the Premiership, I have sympathy for the Hammers and their supporters and hope they make a speedy return, not least becase I want us to actually beat them next time.
The remaining two sides to go down will be from Wigan, Blackburn, Birmingham, Wolves and Blackpool. Since we are playing them and they are one of the most boring sides to watch, I will be happy to see Birmingham go down. There could be controversy at Old Trafford as already Champions United will rest players ahead of the Champions League final meaning Blackpool could have a good chance of staying up, Wigan will stay up if they can win at Stoke and that would leave it as a shootout between Wolves and Blackburn in the game at Molineux. My prediction, Blackpool lose to the kids of United and Birmingham go with them.
Arsenal & Chelsea
All season long, there was a debate about who would end up in fourth place, would it be the billionaires of Manchester City or would Tottenham repeat their feat from last season. In the end, the team who’s likely to finish in 4th looks like it could well be…Arsenal. Another under-achieving season for a Arsene Wenger’s team, who three months ago were looking to win four trophies, but ended up with 0. But, while the Emirates Trophy Cabinet can still be returned unused to the high-end furniture store in Islington it was procured from all those years ago, St. Totteringham’s day was on the 7th May this year, the day that Spurs can no longer finish above Arsenal in the league. This day has been celebrated at some point in every single season since 1994/95 when Tottenham last finished above their north-London rivals. So while I’m happy that they did not win anything, a trophyless season for Arsenal is not something I will be crowing about. Chelsea, deceptively brilliant at the start of the year due to an easy run of fixtures, ended up not quite knowing what kind of team they were and looked great at times, and played Torres at others. Another failure in the Champions League means that Ancelotti’s time is probably up there, but the constant turnover of managers and players means they will struggle to find the repeat success that Manchester United have enjoyed.
So football is nearly over for the summer (except of course, for the Copa America and MLS…okay well the Copa America) – not the best season for Spurs, not the worst one either though. Next season, it will probably more of the same – frustrating defeats and draws to teams at the foot of the table, a good European run (albeit in the lesser competition), but please, next year, how about a trophy. The FA Cup would be nice, we last won that in 1991. I remember it, but the older I get the fainter the memory…
But before I forget – the anagram – PNECRISIS = Priciness
Why do I do it to myself? Why do I convince myself that maybe this time it will be different? What, in a lifetime of supporting Spurs, lead me to a point where I could write this and think it was rational to predict we might win?
I spent a lot of hours, not that long ago, comparing Tottenham to The Wire, and yet, somehow, I failed to learn my own lesson. I could probably re-watch that whole series and think that this time Frank Sobotka will be alright, that Michael and Dukie have a bright future coming and that Wallace is will enjoy a life in the country. But that’s not way it happened. And Spurs were never going to go to Madrid and win – how did I convince myself they might?
From the moment Adebayor (of course it had to be an ex-Arsenal play to inflict the most misery) but the home team 1-0 up, I should have known. What did I say at that point? “We actually play better when we’re behind, we’ve got more points from losing positions than any other Premiership team” (I actually said these words, you can check with the bartender at Old Castle in Midtown should you doubt me…) Then Crouch suffered a rush of blood to the head, something that is particularly disorientating when you are 6’7″, and was sent off for two rash, unnecessary challenges. Within 15 minutes. I racked my brains thinking about how we had played well with 10 men a couple of times this season. At half-time, 1-0 seemed okay, maybe we could hold off and maybe come away with a slim deficit to overcome at the Lane.
Then Adebayor again.
And a screamer from DiMaria.
And a soft volley that Gomes should’ve stopped from Ronaldo.
The one good thing? There is no way I will be able to talk myself into us coming back from this. Even I accept it is over. Real Madrid is to Tottenham as Kenard is to Omar. We’re done for. As for me, I will try never to get so caught up and take my heart over my head again. I will not be so quick to buy into a pipe dream – if you wanted to try and sell me some magic beans or have me invest in a toy factory at the North Pole, well you have missed your chance. Sixth place and the loss of our best players is what lays ahead in the next few months, you can’t convince me of anything else.
On Tuesday, Tottenham head to the Bernabeu to take on Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Wow, I did not think a couple of years ago I would be able to type that – from away defeat to Grimsby in 2005, to taking on the most successful team in the history of the most prestigious European club competition. Anything from this point on really should be a bonus for Spurs fans – but it’s hard to look at the game and not see a marvelous opportunity to progress even further.
First of all, there is some debate as to who will actually be lining up for Real in the first leg: Ronaldo was “definitely out” but looks likely to start; Benzema is perhaps going to miss out; but most importantly, Marcelo, the wing-back, is doubtful. With Tottenham’s main threat coming from the pace and skill of Bale on the left flank, Madrid not having their first choice defender in this area of the pitch could be a big issue for them. Of course, as Maicon can attest, even the highest rated players can be made to look ridiculous by Bale this season (and nobody likes to look ridiculous)
Real Madrid are coming into this game following an embarrassing home defeat to Sporting Gijon; a loss that not only ends any slim chance they had of capturing the title away from Barcelona, but also brought to an end an incredible 9 year, 150 game span in which Jose Mourinho had not lost a home league game as manager of Madrid, Internazionale, Chelsea and Porto. Spurs, meanwhile, have been in mediocre form, with consecutive 0-0 draws against relegation threatened West Ham and Wigan in their most recent games. However, it is hard to read too much into Saturday’s result at the DW Stadium, as the line-up was considerably different to how I expect us to start in Spain. A lack of width will be replaced with the twin threats of the aforementioned Bale on the left, and the speedy Lennon on the right. Some fans have been frustrated by the fact that Redknapp clearly is focusing on the Champions League and resting players for Premiership games – I actually agree with him on this though. There is no point just trying to qualify each year for the competition, football is all about winning trophies not just making more money for the club. While I understand that being in the Champions League allows you to attract a better standard of player, I believe this year we have done so well that we should look to go as far as we can, at least to give it our very best shot.
The worst thing about this fixture is, I really think Tottenham have a great chance to progress. With Crouch leading the line and Van der Vaart, returning to his former club with a point to prove, playing off him, Spurs will cause all sorts of problems for the Madrid defence, the type of which they have not been used to facing in a weakened La Liga. Modric and Ozil are similar players and whoever is more effective between the two of them could swing the balance of the tie. Obviously Ronaldo will be the most talented player on the pitch should he play (which I think he will), but if he is not fully fit or gets frustrated early on, it may be possible for Assou-Ekotto to stifle him (did I really just say that I thought Assou-Ekotto could stop Ronaldo? I’m setting myself up for a big fall, and I really should know better)
Look, I just cannot pick against Tottenham here, my brain is saying that Real Madrid have more quality and individual skill than us and this will likely be where it ends, but my heart is making me believe we can do it. We will do it. The Spurs fans in Spain will sing us to a fantastic 2-1 away win and then at the Lane next week, we will finish the job with a 3-1 victory. And who cares if I sound like John Locke here but – Don’t tell me what we can’t do!
I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, but in the last 16 I went 7/8 in predicting the winners (see for yourself here) missing out only on the Valencia vs Schalke tie – so, to prove I have not yet learnt you should never write off the Germans, let’s start with them:
Inter vs Schalke – Inter Milan are rubbish, seriously, they should not be getting through to the Champions League semi-finals this year. But somehow they got through against an out-of-sorts Bayern and are now facing a team that is 11th in the Bundesliga. Somehow, the reigning Champions will be in the last four.
Chelsea vs Man United – I have a horrible feeling that Chelsea will get revenge for that defeat in Moscow back in…wait, what’s that Wayne? Umm okay, I guess Man United will get through then, because of their…”passion” I guess we’ll call it.
Barcelona vs Shaktar Donetsk – this is controversial, I know, but it’s not just because Tottenham (or Madrid) will play the winners in the semi-finals. I genuinely think Shaktar will knock out the favourites. Why? I think Barca have not been firing on all cylinders recently and the Ukrainians are exactly the sort of team who can take advantage of that, especially with the second leg being played in Donetsk. Call me crazy, but I’m going for Shaktar to go through.