Wednesday, 27 April 2016

How Tony Pulis had Spurs pegged from the start

Tony Pulis knew how to get to Tottenham right from the off. And it wasn't by winding up Dele Alli, doubling up on Harry Kane or by putting 11 men behind the ball.

We all knew West Brom would come to frustrate us and we all knew how good they are at it.

But the first victim of their stifling strategy was not Mousa Dembele's driving runs from deep midfield, nor Danny Rose's link-up with Erik Lamela – and it was not Kyle Walker bombing on down the right.

It was the fans.

White Hart Lane kicked off the evening in good spirits but West Brom set their stall out early.

They took far too long over every throw-in, goal kick and free-kick, letting a few more seconds tick down whenever the occasion arose and pushing the ref to, but never beyond, the limit.

Credit to our players, they weren't fooled and our slick passing game opened up the Baggies time after time. 

Christian Eriksen was agonisingly close with two free-kicks - either side of Kane's effort that Boaz Myhill somehow pushed onto the post. 

But the home support was starting to play into Albion's hands. Huffing and puffing, booing and jeering every carefully crafted stoppage or set-piece delay that Pulis' side was getting away with. 

The Spurs faithful were not directly criticising their own but, once the agitation was flowing, you could see it start to affect the side. 

Spurs players already had every reason to be a bit nervy - Leicester's 4-0 win over Swansea on Sunday meant this was basically win or bust.

With that in mind, a bit of calm from the terraces would not have gone unappreciated. Especially seeing as this side have risen to the task and proven themselves again and again.

Timewasting tactics are schoolyard stuff but Pochettino's blue n white army of followers fell for it - hook, line and absolute stinker. 

We all ask players like Alli to keep their heads in the face of such situations then we all lose ours at the first sign of bother - effing and jeffing with an irrational fear that, somehow, the Baggies might be able to waste the whole game away before we got our noses in front.

When Craig Dawson diverted Eriksen’s free-kick into his own net just after the half hour the damage may already have been done. 

The reaction was that of relief rather than elation and the lads went in at half-time to muted applause rather than all-out encouragement.

Prior to this we had conceded one goal in four games. A 1-0 win would have done just fine. There was no real reason to believe that West Brom should be able to seriously trouble us at the back.

Still we worried, fretted and bit our nails and the lads came out for the second half a shell of the team we have known in recent weeks. 

Apart from a few shining lights in Toby Alderweireld and Dembele, the nerves were taking hold and the tension was rising in the stands - until eventually Dawson got the equaliser we had all been fearing since his own goal at the other end.

It was job done for Pulis and probably job done for Leicester. 

But devastating? Gut-wrenching? Miserable? Not at all. And we certainly did not bottle it.

At the end of January, 12 games ago, we were fourth – five points behind Arsenal who were top of the pile. 

Anyone who thinks we bottled it has an admirable sense of ambition - but no sense of perspective.

Going forward we will no doubt all look for progression from this young team that has showed so much promise. We will all hope they can use this season as a platform and learn from the experience.

Next season we will look for them to demonstrate the composure of title challengers, rather than title hopefuls.

And really, as fans, we should be looking to do the same.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Harry Redknapp broke my glasses

Harry Redknapp took our club into the Champions League and for that I will be forever grateful but my rose-tinted spectacles have finally cracked.

Countless times I've defended his Tottenham reign when others have belittled his achievements but I cannot stand by his comments in this week's London Evening Standard.

Redknapp was responding to Ledley King's claim that this Spurs team is better than his.

While he modestly agrees with our former skipper, the way he goes about it totally undermines the good work Mauricio Pochettino has done at the club.

He said: "Mauricio has done a great job but their success has been the emergence of good players exceeding all expectations. 

"Nobody could have predicted Harry Kane would suddenly become the player he is today. We knew he was good but after so many loan spells, you couldn’t claim he was going to take the Premier League by storm."

Sorry, ‘Arry but it's not some incredible twist of fortune that sees a group of players all reaching their potential at the same time. For a start, they are all different ages and have been at the club different lengths of time.

But more impressive is that so many of them are ahead of schedule. 

The fact that Kane (22), Dele Alli (20), Eric Dier (22), Erik Lamela (24), Kyle Walker (25), Danny Rose (25) and even Mousa Dembele (28) are in the form of their lives is entirely because of good coaching - not regardless of it.

Sure, Pochettino came into a side packed full of promise but we didn't see any other managers getting best out of it, so much so that huge transfer fees have been wasted as huge stars like Roberto Soldado and Paulinho failed to find their feet.

If Kane was not firing under previous bosses, and after multiple loan spells, it speaks volumes for Pochettino - who not only gave him his first real run in the team but also capitalised on his initial run of form to set him on an upwards trajectory that, frankly, doesn't seem to have a limit. 

Redknapp also contradicts himself, claiming Poch's famous double training sessions  aren't a key factor.

"If they were," he says, "Rochdale would fly up the divisions."

But then goes on to label all of Spurs' players "incredible athletes".

He adds:  "Rose and Walker can run all day. Kane never stops for breath and Dembele is up and down in the midfield engine room."

But these players were not always tearing teams to shreds in the latter stages of games - in fact all those players he mentioned have looked at some point like their potential may never be fully realised. So surely their improved fitness and form has at least something to do with the training? 

I'm a big fan of Harry's and what he did for our club. Two top-four finishes, turned around what looked like a relegation campaign, League Cup final, FA Cup semi and Champions League quarter-finals.

People still belittle his success at the club just because we fell away at the back end of a difficult season and because, god forbid, he showed some interest in the England job. 

Redknapp did a lot for the club. - nobody can convince me otherwise - but he would surely baulk at the suggestion Gareth Bale's emergence had nothing at all to do with him.

Harry was a king of making players feel good about themselves - massaging their egos so that even nervous youngsters became the most precocious talent.

He helped Bale overturn a 24-game winless start to his Spurs career and gave him the confidence to score a hat-trick in the San Siro and tear a certain Brazilian right-back to shreds - thus christening this blog.

The same goes for Danny Rose, Redknapp gave him his debut and he used it to score an absolute wonder goal in a marquee 2-1 win over Arsenal in April 2010.

Redknapp’s key strength was as a motivator and he could make players feel like they were capable of anything.

So he above all should know that good coaching makes all the difference to potential - and that Spurs would not be where they are without even better coaching methods than when he was in charge.

And that is exactly what we've got.

If that's a struggle to come to terms with then so be it.

Follow Taxi For Maicon on Twitter @Taxi_For_Maicon

Monday, 18 April 2016

A Spurs problem shared is a Spurs problem solved

I'VE been harbouring a secret for the past few weeks and keeping it under wraps is beginning to eat away at me.

People say that the only way to help these issues is by talking about them - "sharing the burden will lighten the load" and all that sort of thing.

So I'm going to come right out and say it... 

I genuinely think Tottenham are going to win the league.


(More silence. Well, this is awkward)

Did he actually just say that? Out loud? Is he mad? He'll ruin it. He must be some sort of heathen - or a psychopath. We need to get out of here. Back away slowly to the door - then run. We never heard a thing.

Many will be horrified that I'm willing to make this admission in public. If that's you, then I'm sorry. I've done it now. But I'm far from the only one. 

There are thousands of us making the change into one of those horrible specimen detested by well-conditioned Spurs fans - a believer. 

It goes against every ounce of White Hart Lane etiquette that was ever drilled into us. 

Don't tempt fate, don't count your chickens, don't celebrate before the final whistle, don't tempt fate, don't think the job is done and for god sake don't eat the lasagne. 

Did I mention don't tempt fate?

So determined have I always been not to tempt footballing fate that I would refuse to make predictions prior to a Spurs game for fear it could scupper what would otherwise be a straightforward result.

I would wriggle and squirm my way out of them using a volley of pre-loaded expressions.

Ooooh, I wouldn't like to say. Anything could happen. Well, it's Spurs isn't it. 

Two years ago, at about this stage of the season, I was speaking to a work colleague about whether his beloved Liverpool - then top of the table - could see it out and win the title.

"Yeah, I think they will. We've been playing the best football all season. I had £30 on them at 20-1."

Whoa, this guy is unreal. What is he thinking? How can he be that confident? If they lose to Chelsea it'll all unravel for them.

Sure enough, Liverpool lost to Chelsea and their title charge fell apart. But this fella's attitude struck a chord with me.

No matter the outcome, he had been confident in his team. He had backed his horse from way out in the field - while everyone else was casting doubt and turning their noses up - and he stuck by it until the very end. 

He had enjoyed the season while it was there to be enjoyed and, while everyone else could claim they saw it coming or they knew it was out of reach, he would forever be able to look back and say, "Yeah, I really thought we would win it."

How many football fans get to say that about the Premier League title? Not many. 

Can you imagine having one decent run at the championship in your lifetime and one day - regardless of the outcome - you have to admit to yourself that you never really believed your team could do it anyway?

It's not a great example to set or legacy to leave and, besides, it's just not what the game is about.

Football is about entertainment, wearing your heart on your sleeve and the emotions that come with riding the crest of a wave - wherever that wave happens to break.

With this in mind I changed tactic in the middle of last season. I decided I was so done with "not tempting fate" that I was going to tempt it until it could take no more - until fate was so sick of temptation that in future fate might just cross the road to avoid me. 

I started predicting that Spurs would win all our games by massive scorelines - knowing that, if this backfired, there was a real possibility we'd get relegated and it would all be my fault.

Needless to say, my predictions are never bang on but we kept winning games and it has taught me two important things. 

Firstly, tempting fate doesn't make a difference to the result. And secondly, it really doesn't matter if you're wrong.

What matters is that you are putting your faith in something to which over a lifetime you devote a lot of time, effort and passion. 

A growing number of Spurs fans are on the believer bandwagon and the outcome is not what is important. 

This group of players, this bunch of lads, are what is important. They have succeeded where countless Tottenham teams have fallen short in the past. 

Not just with results, and not just with attractive football but by creating something indescribable - pulling the fans together and giving us all something we can be really proud of.

And that’s something I’m more than happy to believe in.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Spurs and Leicester digging up long-buried secret

TOTTENHAM and Leicester are exposing a truth which has long been buried beneath the bravado that soils the modern game - hard graft and teamwork still pay off.

Whatever happens in the last five games this season will change English football for the better and possibly for good.

Claudio Ranieri and Mauricio Pochettino are proving that attitude and effort count more than big reputations and nonsensical transfer fees.

The illusion that only four clubs can win the title is about to be shattered. And those clubs are going to spend longer than everyone imagines picking up the pieces as others come wading in for a bit of the action.

Leicester's story over the last year is incredible. Relegation certs to one hand on the title... it's Roy of the Rovers stuff. Brian Clough meets Alice in Wonderland.

But underpinning all of it is a set of players that respect the game and would run through walls for each other. They are prepared to listen to the ideas of their coach and stick to a game plan.

Not just for one big derby, not just for a cup run and not just to avoid the drop - but for a whole gruelling 38-game campaign. And that sends a strong message.

West Ham and Slaven Bilic will be thinking that, without a winless eight-game winter run, they could be chasing down the top two.

Stoke and Southampton must fancy - were it not for a few slip-ups or a bit of complacency - they could have been battling for a Champions League spot.

Everton fans are already starting to ask why they can't compete and why they have been fed a whole generation of financial excuses when, actually, the money isn't the issue.

Even Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, flying high in 11th, must think he is only a step or two off a team that can fight for Europe.

A lot of people expect the Premier League's financial giants to regroup, dive into the transfer market and come back next season to restore the status quo.

But with big transfer fees come big egos  and big problems. City, Chelsea and Manchester United have all brought in cargo loads of big-time misfits that cannot pull together when the going gets tough.

Pedro, Diego Costa, Raheem Sterling, Memphis Depay cost a fortune, promised much and have all gone missing when it matters most.

That won't be fixed by another summer of throwing cash around. They all need major surgery.

And the success of little unfashionable Leicester has levelled the playing field as clubs begin to realise that with a bit of organisation anything is possible.

Fitness, determination and work rate will rise to the top of the scouts' worksheets above technique, skill or style.

Teams will not be looking for the next Wayne Rooney or Sergio Aguero to splash £35m plus on, they will be looking for the next Jamie Vardy, Dele Alli or Harry Kane.

Pochettino was brought in to make the most of Tottenham's thriving but underused youth system. He has shown faith in young homegrown players and it is coming up trumps for him.

The fans have something to be proud of - and what's more the bank manager is happy.

You can already see other top flight clubs looking to emulate him. City are showing faith in Kelechi Iheanacho, Louis van Gaal is fast-tracking Marcus Rashford, Donald Love and Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Even Arsene Wenger is trying again with Alex Iwobi, despite claiming he was nowhere near ready earlier this season.

Poch was also quick to get rid of the dead wood with Andros Townsend, Emmanuel Adebayor and Younes Kaboul among those out the door - and all three are now battling relegation at their respective new clubs.

Ranieri has also been very careful in his choices, ensuring all squad members are team players and nobody is out to rock the boat.

As a result the top two have no night-club scandals, no training-ground bust ups and no social media gaffes. Instead there are stories of dressing-room harmony, banter and camaraderie, and friendships between players both on and off the pitch.

It all goes towards making this the best season for years.

It's the season that money was beaten by nous and working hard came above partying hard.

It’s the season that team spirit saw off rich-kid bravado, the academies became the new stars of tomorrow and top footballers once again became top role models.

Football is changing. Get used to it.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Prem bosses not keeping ref end of the bargain

KEVIN FRIEND was binned off the Stoke v Spurs game for his allegiances to Leicester and, while it's nice to know someone's looking out for us, aren't these guys meant to be professionals?

There may be a lot at stake but I would like to think that Mr Friend could keep Leicester far enough from his thoughts to officiate a fair game in which they aren't even involved.

Especially when the Foxes are not even his first team. He is just based in Leicester - he has been to watch them in a personal capacity but surely if one of our leading officials is passionate enough about football to go and watch it in his spare time, that can only be a good thing.

It all stinks of the powers that be not putting their money where their mouth is. Players are forever told show the man in the middle more respect.

Managers are continually punished for questioning referees’ decisions and we are all assured that the use of technology is not necessary in every aspect of the game. 

Well show some faith then! These guys put themselves in the firing line week in week out for a fraction of the wages of those around them. Surely they deserve some backing from their employers.

What the referees’ association and the Premier League are effectively saying by replacing Friend with Neil Swarbrick for Monday’s trip to Stoke is that referees are susceptible to favouritism and that they can let their emotions cloud their judgment.

Needless to say, most managers disagreed with the decision to ditch Friend from the Britannia.

Stoke boss Mark Hughes said: “The one thing we all have to be comfortable about is the integrity of the referees, irrespective of who they support.

“That group of professional referees, their integrity should be such that people should never question, even if they have allegiances to other teams, that is where they should be at.”

Arsenal chief Arsene Wenger agreed with Hughes. He said: “It questions the integrity of the referee and sets a dangerous precedent.  

“The solution is you don't look where they come from and who they support, you just pick the best referees.”

Even Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino laid aside our Arsenal rivalry to echo Wenger’s words over a what is beginning to look like a bizarre decision.

Poch said: “We never complain and I want to say we trust in all the referees but I think we need to trust. In some point I agree with Arsene. It is important to keep the integrity of the referee and always back the referee.

“They are human and can make mistakes like us but it is important next time to behave naturally and to show the referee the trust and respect.”

Only last week, Michael Oliver - a big Newcastle fan - took charge of Crystal Palace’s 1-0 win over Norwich. The result increased the chances of Toon catching the Canaries in the battle for survival yet not an eyelid was batted. Oliver even denied Norwich a decent penalty shout.

A season as unpredictable as this needs to be judged on the football but as the campaign hurtles towards its conclusion it would be nice if the decision makers at the top could take more care not to pour controversy over what could yet be a thrilling climax.

It would be interesting to hear Mr Friend's view on the matter.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Pochettino worth every penny of club-record offer

MAURICIO POCHETTINO is said to have been offered a club-record contract at Tottenham - and the promising coach would be worth every penny.

Young stars like Harry Kane and Dele Alli may be attracting comparisons to some of England's all-time greats. 

But the Argentine boss, 44, is the man at the top of Tottenham's keep-at-all-costs list and the Daily Mail claims he is in line for a £27.5million contract across five years.

The value of this type of manager cannot be underestimated and history suggests that, when a club stumbles upon a forward-thinker of his type, you must do everything within your power to let his story unfold.

But how could he be more important than Alli or Harry Kane?

Alli, likened to Steven Gerrard and Paul Gascoigne in this morning's press, said it himself last week, when talking about his decision to join Spurs instead of Liverpool from MK Dons

He said: "The main thing for me was to find a manager who had a similar philosophy to Karl Robinson, who was my coach at MK Dons. He also put a lot of trust in young players.

"Karl was never afraid to put players in at the deep end and I see a lot of players at Spurs who have enjoyed the same opportunities.

"Tottenham like to press, get the ball down and pass. And that suits me. I couldn't think of a better place to be."

For the country's top young talent to be looking at our manager and thinking, "I want to play for him because he will improve me," is absolute gold dust. Money cannot buy that sort of reputation.

While Alli may be the man to build a team around - Pochettino is the sort of boss who can leave a legacy.

The Argentine could unearth or nurture another two, three or five Allis or Kanes. But more importantly he has the opportunity to instil a brand of football and a philosophy that can last for generations.

The grandest example of this is the late Johan Cruyff, although Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Toucher's work at Borussia Dortmund is worth keeping an eye on.

Cruyff was a pupil of Rinus Michel's "Total Football" system that won Ajax six titles in eight years as well as three straight European Cups in the 1970s - and swept the Dutch national team to consecutive World Cup finals (1974 and 1978). 

He was so determined to pass down his theories that, on leaving Barcelona as a player in 1978, he set up the club’s La Masia training facility, inspired by the Ajax academy - now 116 years old - from which he graduated. 

The Ajax academy still churns out stars today. And some of those Spurs fans will know well - like Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen.

La Masia opened in 1979 with the sole intention of developing youngsters into skilful, passing players boasting a keen spacial awareness. 

It turned out the centre of excellence was not just a good deed - Cruyff returned to Barca as a coach in 1988 and benefitted from the school’s early graduates to craft the Barca “Dream Team" of the early 1990s.

And the midfield anchor of that side - which brought Barcelona a first ever European Cup in 1992 and four consecutive La Liga titles - was one Josep Guardiola. 

Pep went on to be Barca’s most successful ever coach, continuing the philosophy tattooed on the club’s psyche by Cruyff. He dominated La Liga and Europe with a side full of La Masia’s homegrown talent - Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro.

That crop of players turn helped drive the Spanish national team to a period of unprecedented success by winning the 2010 World Cup in between two straight European titles.

Spurs boss Pochettino has already had a profound effect on the English national team, with five White Hart Lane stars in Roy Hodgson’s last squad - at an average age of 22.

I’m not saying our man is the next Cruyff or Guardiola - but he is already dipping into Tottenham’s academy ranks and moulding our young stars to his own system. If he can get his ideology established as we move into a new stadium, then he could set us on a much-needed path to a solid footballing identity.

Guardiola also credits lesser-known Marco Bielsa as a major big tactical influence - the former Argentina coach’s revolutionary 3-3-3-1 formation required athletes fit enough to defend and attack. 

The idea was to flood every part of the pitch with players who knew where to be at any given moment. 

They could attack with seven men, defend with seven men and still overwhelm the midfield in the dying minutes.His superfit ranks had to press high and recover the ball when not in possession. 

Sound familiar? Well, Bielsa mentored Pochettino while coaching Newell’s Old Boys to the Argentine title in 1992. So, like Pep, and Cruyff before him, Spurs’ coach is armed with teachings right out of football’s top drawer.

Only the best managers and coaches understand the profound affect they can have on a player, club or nation’s future by developing a thorough philosophy, rather than a just tactic. One man’s methods can turn out to drive a club for decades. 

Pochettino has many of the components to become one of the greats. And he is at our club. 

That needs to be protected above all else.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Spurs must stay strong as big guns get ready to fire

If there was one thing that the weekend showed above all else it was that the big guns are ready to fire.

The title may just be out of range but Arsenal and Manchester City clearly mean business, they are moving into position and getting ready to strike.

While we scrapped to a good point at Anfield and Leicester ground out yet another 1-0, both teams below us surged to 4-0 wins to send out a statement.

Before the weekend our superior goal difference looked like it was worth an extra point but if the chasing duo rattle off another few results like at the weekend then our 10-goal cushion could well be in jeopardy.

The manner of our 1-1 draw at Liverpool was actually very encouraging. Again we fought back, we defended well and, most striking, we were not happy with a point.

It was another stonking finish from Harry Kane - that's 22 this season now - although it did look like the jitters set in a bit at the start of the second half. 

Misplaced passes and possession surrendered easily. But then that's why Mauricio has built from the back and thankfully we have a strong, organised defence to resist the storm on days like Sunday.

But like it or lump it we are now under massive pressure from our North London neighbours. 

Arsenal are effectively one point behind if they win their game in hand - so we could really do with them dropping points at West Ham on Saturday.

I'm not a big fan of hoping other teams lose but I suppose sometimes you just need a favour - especially when you are playing Manchester United the following day. 

History dictates that Arsene Wenger’s lucky bastards will probably finish above us now - given their straightforward run-in compared to ours. West Ham away is as difficult as it gets, while we still have to go to Chelsea, Stoke and host United.

Sadly, that is bound to lead to a lorryload of negativity about how we would have thrown away another lead over the Gunners - when in reality we have never really been more than three points ahead, when you take games in hand into account.

Personally, I think finishing third would be a great season and a huge step forward. But even then there is a long way to go, with City's afterburners now blazing.

Still, if Spurs want to push on and Daniel Levy thinks we’re ready to become regulars at Europe’s top table, then now is the time to prove we deserve an invite - because this run-in will definitely sort the men from the boys.