As I write this article, the Tottenham Hotspur players and management will be on their way home, satisfied with an afternoon shift which was uninspiring but meant that they will not go into the international break as the only top-flight club yet to pick up a point.
Pretty it was not. Entertaining neither. For the first few minutes of their encounter with Scolari´s Chelsea, Spurs looked promising. However, their insipid second-half performance was painfully unambitious. The game plan was clear to all those who took a moment of their time to look at the seven substitutes named by Juande Ramos. With only an out-of-form and often one-dimensional Aaron Lennon to turn to if in need of offensive impetus, Ramos was clearly hoping and praying from the off that Bent would grab a fortuitous goal against the run of play to secure him the point that would quieten the critics.
That Ramos resorted to playing an unproven right-back at left-back (who, having switched to right-back, would be replaced by an attacking midfielder) and a holding midfield player at right-back reveals the bigger problem that has been hampering the club´s progress ever since ENIC stepped in and acquired a holding control in the club.
It cannot be argued for one second that Tottenham are not stronger financially or that they do not possess a more talented group of first-team and academy footballers than at the time of the takeover at the end of 2000. Fourteen of their 20 first-team players are full internationals, 3 are youth internationals. In fact, it could be argued that the only players that do not fall into either of these categories are their second-choice goalkeeper, fourth-choice centre-back and their second-choice left-back.
Add to this impressive pool of international stars an academy bursting at the seams with players of huge potential and talent such as Danny Rose, Thomas Pekhart or Oscar Jansson and you start to realise just how badly Spurs continue to under-perform. However, as Sunderland´s savvy manager pointed out after last week´s hugely disappointing home defeat to the Black Cats, what the Tottenham team lacks is know-how.
Alan Hansen´s famous coments about youth and Arsenal´s kids´usual prgression through the cup rounds aside, it is not hard to understand why a first-team with an average age of less than 24 and with fewer than 500 PL appearances between them (in other words, less than a full season each) struggle to compete with the big sides, travel badly and, especially, wilt when the stakes are high or the going gets tough.
Yes, Giovani is an immensely talented winger. Yes, Roman Pavlyuchenko is a proven international goalscorer who shone during the European Championship this summer and yes Luka Modric is a big reason for Croatia´s rise as a footballing nation but is each of these signings an unnecessary and highly costly gamble? Were Tottenham not in greater of a proven Premiership left-back, left-winger and defensive midfielder and cover for the injury-prone King and Woodgate?
Have Levy and his board of directors not learnt some valuable lessons from previous years- that keeping hold of your best players against their will will only end in tears and strife, that most transfer activity needs to be done in the 6-week summer break and not days before the transfer window slams shut 3 weeks into the new season and that you must reward players with new contracts for strong campaigns rather than sell them (Steed Malbranque?) and get rid of consistent underachievers (Didier Zokora, Michael Dawson?).
Whilst it may seem that instant success at whatever cost is the strategic path that clubs are starting to take, a lot can be learnt from Wenger´s success across the way, which has relied upon cautious speculation and careful nurturing of young talent from around the world AND NOT reckless panick-buying and selling and a poor attempt to replicate a needlessly frictional and complicated European club structure.
I don´t see a Damien Comolli-style figure pulling the strings in Manchester or at The Emirates!
What is needed, Mr. Levy, is a fundamental, sensible approach to breaking the monopoly that is the ´top 4´, not an ill-conceived and unrealistically ambitious assault. For once, it may be better for Levy and co. to keep their heads down and stay out of sight to let their team get down to business where it counts - on the pitch.
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