It was popular to observe over the summer that Spurs had sold Elvis and bought The Beatles, but in the aftermath of AVB’s sacking it’s the words of another Elvis, Costello, that come to mind – “I used to be disgusted, but now I’m just amused”.
I was one of the people who thought that Daniel Levy and the Spurs board were right to call it a day with Redknapp and appoint a modern, progressive manager who seemed well equipped to take the team on to greater heights. That view didn’t mean dismissing Redknapp’s undoubted achievements, but it did acknowledge that Harry’s reign had run out of steam. So I backed the decision to end it with HR and start it with AVB. It turns out I got it wrong. Just like Levy and the board got it wrong. The difference is, they won’t admit it. And that’s where the real cause for concern is.
Within the Spurs support it can sometimes seem as if there are more camps than you’d find at a cub scout convention, and in the aftermath of AVB’s sacking the competing camps are certainly flying their flags. Much of the reaction is as much based on old scores as current gripes, and I’ll acknowledge that I find it difficult sometimes to prevent my dislike for the way our board has long conducted itself influence my judgement. But it is surely legitimate to ask questions of a board that is now looking for its ninth manager in 12 years, and surely possible to do so in a measured way.
No one gets it right all the time, but I suspect Levy and co wouldn’t tolerate an employee who consistently got such important decisions wrong over such an extended period. Of course, calls for Levy to resign, for the board to go, are futile. They own the club, having displayed considerably greater nous in buying a significant block of the club’s shares than they ever have in football matters. But asking legitimate questions, requiring evidence that mistakes have been learned from, is possible without either resorting to ‘sack the board’ knee-jerks or being in a position to buy the club at whatever absurdly inflated price Levy is asking for it this week.
I won’t go over old ground here. I’ve written plenty about what the club’s done over the last 12 years on this blog, and the Total Tottenham blog has done a very good analysis. The common theme that emerges is of a club forever embarking on new projects, and then losing faith at a vital time as the whole thing descends into a mass of finger-pointing and recrimination.
Far from providing stability, the structure at Spurs seems to fuel instability, with multiple centres of power operating to win the favour of an unchallengeable emperor. When things begin to go wrong, the unattributable briefings begin, the fingers point, the factions form and – out on the pitch – the players realise that however poorly they perform, it will be the manager who gets the bullet and they will continue to pick up their pay. Team spirit, solidarity, willingness to fight for a cause they believe in – it all seems a distant prospect. Some may say that’s just modern football. But let’s consider, for a moment, the situation at Liverpool, the team against who the latest “project” finally met its end.
There we see a club where the manager’s approach has been questioned by a large number of fans, who is accused of overcomplicating, of not knowing his first choice first eleven. Reliable sources indicate that he has not been able to buy some of the players he wanted, that some of the players he has got are not the ones he wanted, and that there have been disagreements at senior level. And yet whatever disagreement there is remains behind closed doors and, out on the pitch, a unit operates that gets results. And when there are bad results, such as the defeats to Hull and Arsenal, there’s no quick talk of sacking the gaffer.
Just as we, as fans, don’t really know how a player has trained or what his attitude on the training ground has been when we discuss the pros and cons of team selection over a pre-match pint, so too the truth of what happens behind the scenes at more senior level is hidden. But at Spurs, it’s possible to detect a pattern.
The club appoints a ‘groundbreaking new coaching structure’ (we rarely just appoint a manager); there’s an initial bounce; then the doubts set in, often after we’ve either sold our best player (another modern tradition) or failed to secure the Groundbreaking New Coaching Structure’s preferred targets. ‘Sources close to the club’ begin to express doubts about the GNCS, sources close to the GNCS indicate that the players were not the choice of the GNCS; sources close to the players who are not the choice of the GNCS begin to indicate that they have been treated unfairly and that the GNCS is Very Bad Indeed. At some stage, usually in the middle of a season, often after significant expenditure, but not longer than 18 months in, the GNCS is sacked. Everyone left at the club then blames everyone else, but mostly the departed GNCS. Everyone that is, except the chairman and the board, who never, ever explain themselves.
It’s important they do, and not just because we all like to see people in the stocks when things go wrong – it’s an unpleasant trait but one we all harbour. If they explained what they were doing, why they did it, and how they thought they could learn from what went wrong, it might provide some faith that the same cycle would not begin again. Instead, we are left reaching for the pro-forma drawn up by my friend Adam Powley in his well-observed blog post.
It does seem as if, by the time of the awful performance against Liverpool, AVB and the Spurs board knew it was over and were just waiting for the axe to fall. Again, it’s a modern Spurs tradition. The situation becomes so bad, fuelled by the whisperings and the briefings, that the manager’s position becomes untenable and the decision has to be made. Note the formulation here. The situation, like some unstoppable force of nature, becomes untenable and so the ‘inevitable’ decision has to be made. Just one of those things, so no need to analyse what went wrong, no need for anyone who remains to take responsibility.
What’s been noticeable about the reaction to the sacking from outside the club, and beyond the ranks of hacks with various axes to grind against AVB, is the utter incredulity that greeted the decision. A manager with an entirely new team assembled from across the globe, barely halfway into a season, sacked by a board that wholeheartedly embraced building that new team with that manager at the helm. When, they ask, does anyone at the top take responsibility?
I have little doubt that the next appointment will be a very clever one (we rarely just appoint a manager), that there will be some interesting and engaging football played, some successes and some setbacks. I have little faith that the club will unite when those setbacks crop up, but every faith that in roundabout 18 months we will be having this very same conversation again. It’s like football’s version of Groundhog Day. Unfortunately, I am too stupid and set in my ways to walk away from supporting my club, so I guess it’s just a case of accepting the stealing of loyalty points, increasing of prices and revolving door personnel policy and everything else that contributes that unique Tottenham Hotspur Experience.
I enjoy the buzz of a matchday, and meeting up with a fantastic group of mates at matches home and away. Not too many years ago I would have been raging at the stupidity and lack of accountability at the club, and I still harbour the belief that, one day, things could be better. But little by little, the rage and the passion is being extinguished. It’s probably better for what’s left of my sanity.
I used to be disgusted, but now I’m just amused.