Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Van Gaal axe confirms United's fall from grace

MANCHESTER UNITED may have won the FA Cup but the shambolic sacking of Louis van Gaal confirms the club has lost its class. 

Sir Alex Ferguson took 27 years creating and protecting a legacy worthy of the Red Devils’ rich history.

Under the Scot, United's identity was built on loyalty, respect and tradition.

LVG was afforded none of that as news of his axe hit the headlines while he was lifting silverware at Wembley.

Sir Alex’s Manchester United had everything - attacking football, discipline, role models, a British backbone and a never-say-die attitude that proved the difference on countless occasions.

Fergie time was the joke - the "Fergie effect" was the reality. Everyone knows the Class of 1992 and no one forgets the Nou Camp 1999.

But within three years of his retirement in 2013, those he left behind have destroyed every pillar of his blueprint, blinded by their desperate quest for success.

A jealous generation may feel it is high time that a set of fans raised on glory had some time in the doldrums but it is still a shame to see the once-great club floundering in such a manner.

United now fire managers on a routine basis and throw cash around like it's going out of fashion.

Basically, they are just like every other Premier League club.

The 1990s and 2000s saw Red Devils fans chastised for being "glory hunters" or not being from Manchester.

But really it was just annoying that, when a United fan acted like their club was up on a pedestal, they actually had a point.

It was not just the trophies or the fact their unit of homegrown stars fuelled the national team for a generation. 

It was also how in tune the club was with its roots and how their history still shaped its future.  

Bobby Charlton has the best seat in the house at OT, Matt Busby has a statue outside and Ferguson himself has a stand and a road named after him at the ground.

The Great Scot may have left United with one of his least exciting squads but do not forget he still signed off with the league title. 

He had shown the way and the path was clear - it was having faith in young British talent, it was sticking by your manager and it was a winning mentality that money cannot buy.

Above all, his players believed in everything the club stood for. Every kid wanted to play for Manchester United and those who did were forever proud to do so.

The Red Devils had a working recipe for long-term success and adulation. They did not need trophies to win people over, they already had the planet's biggest fanbase. They did not need to buy the world's biggest stars, they created them. 

Ferguson would never have spent £59.7million on Angel Di Maria, he would never have wanted David Moyes fired after less than a season and would never have paid Wayne Rooney £300,000 a week.

No player was bigger than the club and, if you threatened to leave, you left.

And now, if Jose Mourinho does replace Van Gaal, the transformation will be complete, world-renowned winners to billionaires’ circus.

The Portuguese is a fantastic coach, nobody is arguing that, but from his eye-gouging antics at Real Madrid to firing Chelsea's doctor last season, he courts controversy and revels in it.

LVG's style of football may have been found wanting and by all accounts he struggled to keep hold of the dressing room.

But as one of football's elder statesmen, who has had success all over Europe, the 64-year-old behaved with honour until the end.

He did not deserve to be hung out to dry for months on end or thrown to the media wolves with no support. Yet even as he lifted the FA Cup, the whispers of his departure drowned out the cheers.

To executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, the trophy may feel like the first step to back to the top. To the rest of us, the club we all had to watch winning title after title has gone.

United have fired managers and spent a fortune in a desperate bid to protect their winning reputation - the ultimate irony is they have destroyed it in the process.

Follow @Taxi_For_Maicon on Twitter.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Kane brings Tottenham's Jekyll and Hyde form to England

Jamie Vardy saved Harry Kane’s blushes as Tottenham’s Jekyll and Hyde nature threatened to infect England’s Euro 2016 hopes.

Spurs striker Kane opened the scoring with a cool finish after just 120 seconds but missed a second-half penalty before Vardy hammered home from close range to win it.

No fewer than five Tottenham players were in Roy Hodgson’s starting line-up and all would have been desperate to hit the ground running and banish the memories of their late season Premier League collapse.

They got off to a dream start as top-flight Golden Boot winner Kane combined with White Hart Lane pal Dele Alli to put England 1-0 up.

Alli took the ball from Raheem Sterling and, with superb skill and vision, took just two quick touches to control then poke the ball through for Kane to shoot low past Turkey keeper Volkan Babcan - despite replays clearly showing him to be in an offside position. 

Turkey’s boss Fatih Terim was less than impressed that the goal was given, even attempting to convince the fourth official by finding a replay on his smartphone - a move that promptly saw his mobile confiscated. 

You cannot deny he had a point.

Skipper Wayne Rooney was missing due to his FA Cup final involvement with Manchester United, so the focus was on Kane and Vardy creating a partnership up front.

And the frontmen almost hit it off within a minute when Kane’s pass forward nearly put the 24-goal Leicester hitman clean through.

If Spurs fans were proud of their contingent’s immediate impact then on four minutes they had even more reason to be smug when Kyle Walker’s lunging block prevented Ozan Tufan scoring an immediate equaliser.

But on 13 minutes, his full-back partner Danny Rose was one of a host of Three Lions players at fault as Turkey forced their way level.

Eventual man-of-the-match Rose was caught hopelessly out of position and Volkan Sen took advantage of a complete shambles to nick the ball over an onrushing Joe Hart for Hakan Calhanoglu to steer into an empty net.

Turkey, who compete in Group D at Euro 2016 against Spain, Czech Republic and Croatia had not come to make friends and Sterling, Alli and Rose were all on the end of wild lunges that had the England bench up in arms.

Another Spurs midfield man Eric Dier - who scored the winner against Germany in Berlin back in March, went close with a header from a Jack Wilshere corner on 25 minutes. But the visitors’ in-your-face attitude seemed to cause England to stand off. 

A number of players resorted to pot shots from distance as they tried to mount a case for the few remaining spots in Hodgson’s squad that may still be undecided.

Kane’s defining moment came on 71 minutes after Mehmet Topal was booked for what looked like a dubious call as he brought down Vardy in the box. 

The Tottenham 22-year-old stood up confidently but smashed his penalty against the outside of the post.

But Leicester’s Premier League-winner Vardy showed his champion’s pedigree 12 minutes later when he gobbled up a rebound from a Gary Cahill header to notch his third goal in consecutive internationals.

England looked set to see out the game but they were given an almighty late scare two minutes into injury time when Hart produced a world class save down to his right to deny Sahan Olcay.

A good workout for Hodgson’s lads - but there is a lot to do if the Three Lions are to be a serious threat in France next month. 

ENGLAND: Hart; Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose; Dier; Alli, Wilshere; Sterling; Kane, Vardy

TURKEY: Babacan; Gonul, Topal, Balta, Erkin; Inan, Tufan; Calhanoglu, Ozyakup, Sen; Tosun.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Top 4 on Friday - embarrassing blunders

Tottenham's implosion at Newcastle may have cost second place in the Premier League but it did confirm that we are still champions when it comes to embarrassing gaffes.

In this week's irrelevant rundown of ridiculous Spurs trivia, here's some of our most glorious cock-ups and blunders of recent years.

4. Manchester City collapse, February 2004
This could really be any of a number of nightmare capitulations. Everyone talks about the Manchester United 5-3, but that was at least against the champions of England - this one was pre-money Man City and seems to get forgotten.

That does not make it any less horrific.

After a 1-1 draw in Manchester, we were 3-0 up at the break - compounded by the fact City had Joey Barton sent off as the half-time whistle went.

Yet somehow we let Kevin Keegan's side back into it and Shaun Wright-Phillips pulled them level with ten minutes left. Then, just as we were hanging our heads and settling for extra-time, Jon Macken nicked the goal to leave us red-faced.

3. Glenn Hoddle's Rivaldo letter, August 2002
Brazilian Rivaldo had a barnstorming World Cup in 2002 but his Barcelona deal was up and Spurs launched an audacious bid for the playmaker.

Needless to say he was not wooed by our mid-table mediocrity of the time. But rather than just let it go as a busted flush, then-boss Glenn Hoddle had to make it clear that at least we were trying to sign this type of player. 

The former England boss said: "We came so close to getting Rivaldo and I thought it was a touch of class for him to send us a terrific letter explaining his decision."

Needless to say, nobody cared. In fact, everybody laughed. We didn't have Rivaldo, AC Milan did. That's all that mattered.

2. Christian Gross' dream ticket, November 1997
The Swiss boss arrived with a big reputation having won titles with Grasshopper Zurich. He lasted nine months. Although it was all undone within days.  

Firstly, he arrived into Heathrow late and at his opening press conference held up a Tube travel card proclaiming it as his  "ticket to the dreams."

It was more like a free pass to Nightmare Alley as his No 2 Fritz Schmid was denied a work permit and we went on to narrowly escape relegation by four points.

1. Lasagne-gate, May 2006
Martin Jol's side were fighting for a first Champions League appearance and needed a win at West Ham to finish fourth ahead of Arsenal.

Come the morning of the game, we all woke up to the news that 10 Spurs players had been struck down by a mystery illness. 

The lasagne at the team hotel was blamed and fingers pointed in all directions, West Ham fans, Arsenal fans, back room staff, rival club sabotage etc.

Of course everyone has their own "inside information" on the whole ridiculous affair but the only thing that you can be sure of is it would not have happened at any of the other clubs fighting for the top four!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Cornerstones of Spurs' season proved to be our undoing

Only Tottenham can go from talk of dynasties to total disarray in the space of one afternoon.

The buzz around Mauricio Pochettino's new contract and his potential to create something special was placed back in its box - at least for the summer - as the "brave new world" became, well, "same old Spurs".

However rose-tinted your spectacles the nightmare at Newcastle has sadly soiled the back end of a season that held so much promise. 

And it is a shame because it just has not been that sort of a season - the majority of it was a massively positive experience and reignited many people's passion for football and pride in the club.

But now the record books show no trace of a title race, no sign of a seismic shift in quality and no clue of the crest of a wave on which we were all carried away.

The cold hard facts just say Leicester 81, Arsenal 71, Tottenham 70.

In the end, the very cornerstones upon which we built our season proved our undoing.

Tottenham's young squad and resolute character were championed over the winter months but both came back to haunt us.

Poch admitted that, while his side bared their teeth too much in the Chelsea game, it was vital to show some grit and fight for a result. 

Well, whether it was the lack of key faces thanks to ill-discipline (Mousa Dembele, Dele Alli) or the relative inexperience of our biggest names (Kane, Eriksen, Lamela) Spurs showed none of that grit in the final two games. 

For most of the season we topped the stats for points won from losing positions. By the end we led the way in spurning leads as well. 

Poch's reaction said it all. Usually so protective of his players, he fumed: “It wasn’t a tactical problem it was a mental problem. 

"You need to give 100 per cent. We need to show more character.

“It’s my responsibility, I’m disappointed but it’s good information for decisions in the summer."

The implication is that 100 per cent was not reached and "summer decisions" looks like some might have played their last game in a Spurs shirt. 

Pochettino, and the club in general, will have been hugely embarrassed that the pomp and bravado with which they rolled out the news of his contract extension was not backed up with a result on the final day. 

Both experience and character go hand in hand. One trait breeds and nurtures the other. But one thing they both need to thrive is leadership and, on the pitch at least, that is lacking in the Spurs squad.

Fans will look towards the transfer window and insist we need another defensive mid or quality back-up for Kane. 

They are probably right, and you expect some new additions as Poch looks to follow through on his insistence he can build and sustain success. 

But more important is the current crop also has to step up - because nobody took control against Newcastle or a season that has been spiralling since the West Brom match.

Skipper Hugo Lloris may well be one of our most accomplished and most capped players, as captain of the French national team, but his ability to raise spirits and pull the group together is questionable. 

Especially given a recent tendency for daring short passes that pile the defence under unnecessary pressure. Yes, the keeper routinely gets Spurs out of trouble - but he has to stop getting us into it. 

Christian Eriksen is the group's most intelligent footballer but at 24 years old it is time he takes the next step. 

The playmaker floats in and out of games and in and out of form, one minute picking out an eye-of-the-needle pass, the next getting shoved off the ball too easily. 

He should be dictating the play and stretching defences to the limits. 

Erik Lamela had his best season by far and is Spurs' most naturally gifted footballer. He has added strength to his game, loves to get stuck in and has the tenacity to really pull the strings from midfield.

Yet for a player who is capable of hitting a Rabona into the top corner from 20 yards, it is very seldom we see him pull something spectacular out of the bag when it really matters.

Then there is Dembele, who is starting to look like the dominant midfield general we have all craved for generations - just as long as he is on the pitch. 

His six-game ban for a spat with Chelsea's Diego Costa has backfired big time and you would think he could well now be on a final warning. 

Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld are the two likely lads as far as future captaincy and raising morale goes. Both are capable of rallying the squad when things are not going our way but cannot do it all themselves. 

Make no mistake, the players will be as devastated as the fans with getting thrashed on Tyneside and they will not be happy with a summer of goading. 

But it has happened. There is nothing they can do about it. It is all experience, albeit a bad experience. 

The trick now is showing enough character not to let it go to waste.

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Sunday, 15 May 2016

Arsenal rivalry is healthy but not top priority for Spurs

Any Tottenham fan whose main concern is finishing above Arsenal needs to get their priorities straight.

Spurs' main concern, more so even than just finishing second, needs to be to beat Newcastle United.  

That may all amount to the same thing, but the perspective is hugely significant.

A run of three without a win has knocked Mauricio Pochettino's side out of their stride and threatens to overshadow the end of a real breakthrough season as too many fans let the doubts and the Gooner-squabbling, creep back in. 

Many of our fanbase have long used Arsenal as a measure for whether a season is successful or not. Continually reliving a battle they have fought since the playground just because it was indoctrinated at an early age.

It is good to have a healthy rivalry to fuel banter, pub arguments and to make good of those times when there really is nothing else to get excited about. 

But this season it has taken a backseat to supporting the team and Spurs fans now  have to get beyond using it as a main yardstick.  

Even manager Pochettino, fresh from signing a contract extension until 2021, insists the days of neighbourly comparison are over. He said: “In football, the supporters and their feelings are very important but we are professional. 

“To move on, we need to sometimes to put out the emotions, to be clever. We need to fight first to improve ourselves and be strong in our ideas.”

Since the 2-1 home defeat to Southampton, Spurs fans around my work were once again shrouded in a cloak of negativity - moping around, muttering “we've f***ed it", and worse still letting Arsenal fans wind them up. 

"Of course you'll finish above us," one moaned. "It happens every year."

And when challenged on why he is not more optimistic, responded: "Because I've seen it all before. We get so close and undo a whole season's worth of good work."

Well, if you have seen it all before then you will know what happens at Newcastle on the final day and you can earn a tidy fortune at the bookies. 

And the only people undoing any good work are those who let slip of the belief that had built up all season only to slide back into self-doubt and loathing at the first sign of adversity.

Firstly, fully grown adults should be able to better manage their emotions - were we not all saying the same of Danny Rose and Mousa Dembele after the Chelsea game?

But more importantly, it does not take a genius to see that Tottenham are going places, quicker than Arsenal. 

The biggest problem with finishing third would not be that Arsenal had caught us on the line but that we had tailed off with some disappointing results when it mattered most to the fans. 

Be it the pressure, the fitness, the workload, a run of four without a win would dampen the enthusiasm of a great campaign.

Maybe it is just a timely reminder for Tottenham's young squad of what happens when you start to believe your own hype. 

What happens is that you stare into the distance, you drop your knife and fork and you cannot finish your dinner.

And put next to Leicester's display last week, it hints that we have much further to go than we were prepared to admit two weeks ago.

In case you do not know, the Foxes beat Everton 3-1 at home on Saturday evening at their Premier League coronation.

That's Leicester, who won the title against all odds. Well, against 5,000-1 odds.

Leicester, who we would all have forgiven for going out and getting so smashed they could not even field a team for their final two games. 

But who instead look set to finish off their incredible season in a crisp, efficient and impressive manner.

The champions arrived at the King Power stadium as fresh as opening day back in August to put on a terrific show for the fans who had cheered them all the way.

Claudio Ranieri's Foxes now top the table by a massive ten points and it is difficult to believe we were technically still in the title race last Monday.

Spurs went into Sunday knowing that three points would secure second spot and their best top-flight finish since 1963.

But more importantly looking to draw a line under two throwaway results against west Brom and Chelsea that had cost us dear in the title race.

We failed to do that, but we have another chance at Newcastle, who were relegated on Wednesday with Sunderland's 3-0 win over Everton. We now have the opportunity to seize second place with both hands and erase all doubt.

The season is in danger of finishing with a whimper and, while beating our bitter rivals into second place may exorcise some demons, it is more important that we finish with a flourish and claim the campaign for our own rather than limp over the line.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Top 4 on Friday - Twitter trolls

Top 4 on Friday is back. It's a light-hearted rundown of anything Tottenham, England or football related and may involve going off at severe tangents if a subject matter is hard to come by. 

This week looks at the Top 4 Twitter trollings involving Spurs players, staff or otherwise, who have either come out with an absolute gem to leave a rival looking silly - or just ended up with egg on their faces. 

4. Dier and Dele Alli

The morning after the night before for Spurs ace Dele Alli. We had just honked Stoke 4-0 at the Britannia in mid-April to close the gap on Leicester at the top. Harry Kane and Alli scored two apiece but the 20-year-old midfielder was guilty of one of the misses of the season. 

Played into the clear, Alli rounded keeper Shay Given, straightened up, adjusted his body towards an open goal and planted his shot against the foot of the post - before collapsed in a crumpled and red-faced heap on the turf. 

He made up for it by scoring a worldie volley later on but good mate Eric Dier was not going to let him forget it that easily and greeted him in the morning with a video of the miss on his Twitter account - because that's what friends are for!

3. @SpursOfficial get sunk by Bayern Munich

Tottenham hold a little-advertised record that has stood since the double-winning year of 1960-61 - 11 victories in a row to start a domestic season is the most ever across Europe's top five leagues (I can only presume that means England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany).

Well, Pep Guardiola's Bayern racked up ten at the start of this season but drew with Eintract Frankfurt at the end of October to end their hopes - and our official Twitter account could not resist a bit of a dig.

Nice, touch, but it was nothing compared to the Bavarians' response, putting us firmly in our place and reopening the wounds of 2012, when Chelsea's Champions League final win over Bayern cost us a Champions League spot. When did the Germans develop a decent s
sense of humour?

2. Vardy hits back at Kane

Another one from this season's run-in after Harry and was a sitting duck Kane had posted an Instagram pic of four lions on the prowl as a cheeky nod to say "we're coming for you!"

But needless to say, as our title challenge faded Kane was a sitting duck. And hours before our 2-2 draw with Chelsea handed Leicester the title, Vardy tweeted a frame from the Lion King as bad-guy Scar is clinging on for dear life before falling to his demise.

1. #AskJackWilshere

Simply the best trolling episode we have seen - ever.  And it happened this week. Arsenal's Jack Wilshere had agreed to do a fans Q&A session on Twitter for ESPN. But when the time came, the questions were not what he expected as Spurs fans and others weighed in to absolutely crucify the injury-prone midfielder.

You can see the carnage for yourself on Twitter with the hashtag #AskJackWilshere

But the pick of the comedy insults included "Are you getting enough vitamin D in Dele Alli's shadow?", "where will you be watching the Euros?", "Has your career as an NHS patient been hampered by having to play the odd football match?".

But best of all was "Have you ever been involved in an accident that was not your fault?" 

Maybe time to concentrate on the football, Jack?

Check back next week for more Top 4 on Friday. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Why Spurs chief Levy is finally winning the popularity stakes

Daniel Levy has long been a polarising figure at Tottenham but he is finally winning in the popularity stakes - and with good reason.

Balanced books, Champions League football and the new stadium are all on the current chairman's watch - as well as making top-five finishes the rule, rather than the exception.

And the future looks set to hold Wembley, NFL games and, who knows, maybe even trophies, as the club’s global profile continues to rise. Title hopes are even back on the table.

Levy's haters, slaters and berators are now well in the minority. I should know, I was one of them. 

Although I never went quite as far as the angry few who paraded outside White Hart Lane with "Levy Out" placards in May 2014.

Tim Sherwood was about to get the boot and, despite fortunes on the pitch gradually improving, fans were getting fed up with the continued upheaval as managers were turned over with alarming regularity and our best players often sold.

But one look at the mess made by investors at other clubs like Newcastle, Aston Villa, Leeds and Blackburn showed that the grass is not always greener.

We at least had a Tottenham fan at the helm who may take some business limelight now and again but, when all was said and done, things were pretty good. 

My main beef with Levy was his insistence on a tiered management structure. And no matter how many times it blew up in his face, he was always willing to tear everything up and try it all again.

English football at the time was used to a traditional manager, who dealt with everything from formations and training to scouting and transfers - sometimes even marketing and finances. 

The “European model” used by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus etc featured a head coach, dealing solely with first-team tactics and motivation, working below a general manager who controlled scouting, transfers, contracts etc. 

In theory, it gives the scope to change the coach without wholesale player and staff changes destabilising a club.

But Levy went through general managers, or Directors of Football, almost as often as head coaches as different incarnations of the system continually collapsed around him.

The three-headed monster of Frank Arnesen, Jacques Santini and Martin Jol lasted 13 games in 2004 before Santini jumped ship, and Jol became a raging success. 

Not deterred, in came Damien Comolli and Juande Ramos, who spent a fortune in summer 2008 but left us in October staring relegation in the face. 

Harry Redknapp rode in as a good old-fashioned manager, saved our skin then took us to fourth spot and into the Champions League.

That was surely it, the final nail for Levy’s tiered dream? Think again. Andre Villas-Boas joined technical director Franco Baldini - an arrangement which imploded after 18 months.

Yet after 10 years of apparent board-level chaos, it was only when Sherwood stepped up from the academy with all the cut and thrust of a young boxer - naively waiting for that first jawbreaker to put him on the canvas - that I finally began to understand just why Levy was so intent on the head coach strategy.

Top football teams are no longer family businesses or one person’s labour of love, they are corporate juggernauts with thousands of staff doing millions of tasks. No one person can run the club alone.

Similarly, where player transfers of days gone by involved two blokes, a motorway service station and a handshake, they now involve agents, sponsors, image rights, insurance and massive, massive price tags.

One person alone simply cannot be trusted with that level of business, money and consequence - especially when they are already running the first team.

David Moyes arrived as Manchester United boss in 2013 presuming he could apply the same methods that served him so well at Everton - despite the fact he was leaving HMS Belfast for the QE2. 

Alex Ferguson had basically been a figurehead in his twilight Old Trafford years - a captain on the bridge, delegating jobs to a highly qualified crew that knew how to steer the ship.

Moyes sacked the backroom staff and brought in his own, who set about sailing into the nearest iceberg.

Meanwhile, Tottenham finally seem to have found the right fit in Mauricio Pochettino, with the Argentine's contract now extended to 2021. And, as is always the case with Levy, the business side of the club continues to thrive.

Baldini left the club in September 2015 but Spurs still use head of recruitment Paul Mitchell, formerly of Southampton and MK Dons, to analyse potential targets.

The way football has gone, it is now clear that the chairman's route was not the European method at all - but the modern method. 

Levy, it must be admitted, was way ahead of his time. If he continues like that, his popularity will only increase.