In any good horror film, as the story progresses you invariably know who’s not going to make it through until the final credits.
By creating that sense of impending doom for the unlucky soul on screen, the viewer is put on edge and drawn into the picture.
The nervous excitement and anticipation that precedes the bloody moment of terror is felt just as much in the football world as it is in the cinema—in a cold and gloomy part of North London, a Spaniard is wielding his axe on an unsuspecting Tottenham squad.
Since entering the scene at White Hart Lane, Juande Ramos has made no secret of his desire to revamp and revolutionise his squad. His opening attack came on the waistlines and fitness of a number of Tottenham’s players.
The amount of late goals Spurs were conceding was an immediate worry to the new boss and his assistants, and fitness was the key factor in tackling this problem.
Fitness coach Marcos Alvarez, whom Ramos had brought with him from Sevilla, doubled training sessions and removed fried foods from the Spurs canteen.
Goalkeeper Paul Robinson and Tom Huddlestone were two of the weightiest problems for Alvarez to work on, and have shown a stark improvement in their shape and performance since Ramos took charge in October.
Fitness wasn’t all Ramos had his eye on. From his very first training session, he has been sizing up the players' abilities and techniques, and evaluating their suitability to fit his plans.
Player departures are always expected when there is a change of management, and many likely candidates for the exit—such as Wayne Routlege, Paul Stalteri, and Ricardo Rocha—were expected not to see out the season.
Since the January transfer window has opened, however, the manager’s axe is now beginning to fall down hard on a number of unexpected victims.
Despite much improved performances and weight loss, Robinson looks to be in line for the chop. His season has been peppered with error-strewn performances and he has been culpable for a fair share of the 38 goals Tottenham have conceded in the league this term.
His loyalty to the club has been outstanding, exemplfied by his signing of an unprecedented seven-year contract in 2005. However, it seems Ramos has lost patience with the England stopper and has eyes for another man between the sticks.
An even more surprising addition to Ramos’s hit list is French fullback Pascal Chimbonda. As culpable as any of the Spurs squad for their poor start to the season, the defender seems to have put in one bad game too many for the manager's liking.
Chimbonda has made clear his less-than-happy feelings about playing as a makeshift centre back, and perhaps this was the final straw for the Spurs boss. The Frenchman has been magnificent over the last two seasons, but it looks as though his time has come to an end at White Hart Lane.
Right backs seem to be high up on the preferences of Ramos' wish list, with Chris Gunter joining from Cardiff, and an £8m offer extended to Rangers’ Alan Hutton turned down by the player.
With every Champions League club worth their salt fighting tooth and nail to land Tottenham’s classy striker Dimitar Berbatov, it was interesting to see that Ramos, too, had his eye on his own frontline.
Goals have not been Tottenham’s problem area this year, as Spurs have outscored all but Arsenal in the league. So when Jermain Defoe was called into the Spaniard’s office for a chat, he was as surprised as anyone to hear that he was being allowed to leave the club—even after a burst of three goals in three games.
To his credit, Defoe made it clear he wanted to stay and fight for his place—but Ramos clearly feels that the England man would be better off elsewhere.
Darren Bent has also struggled to impress his new employers this season. From day one Ramos had questioned the £16m man’s condition, and has given the striker ample opportunity to redeem himself. It appears now, though, that he is willing to sell the Bent should a suitable offer come in for him.
This midseason cull is coming at the first time Ramos has been able to truly make his imprint on the team. In purging his squad so thoroughly, Ramos is making a statement: Those who cannot perform will be cut out of his plans, while those who are willing to step up may find a very welcome place on his team.
Players who are walking the tightrope between these two positions—like Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas and Michael Dawson are sure to have until the end of the season to show the new management what they are made of.
Ramos is known to be a ruthless but fair man when it comes to his team selection. He has already shown that players, who have proven to him in training that they are good enough, such as Jamie O’Hara and Kevin Prince-Boateng, will be given a chance on the first team.
With just under a month to go until the transfer window shuts again, Tottenham fans will be feeling that nervous excitement and anticipation that only the open window can bring—whether it is over players leaving or coming in.
They can only hope Ramos’s eye for talent is as sharp as the axe he is only too willing to use.