Updated: May 10
It doesn’t pay to make predictions Sleeping on an unmade bed Finding wherever there is comfort there is pain Only one step away Like four seasons in one day.
The words of Crowded House’s Four Seasons in One Day came into my head as i was thinking about how to sum up a final day which somehow seemed fitting for this extraordinary season, a day in which everything and nothing seemed possible at different times. Before the game, Dan Louw – maker of the splendid Spurs Away Days videos – summed it up nicely by Tweet. “3rd – best season in 22 years; 4th – not bad; 5th – season tickets on the pitch”. As it happened, 5th never really looked possible, 3rd was tantalisingly close, and we ended up with a fourth that may yet feel like 5th. So what can we make of it all?
For much of the season Spurs played the best football in the top flight. It was a real thrill to watch a Spurs team that could both compete and entertain. I loved every minute. Then we hit a blip – one that lasted longer than I had expected when I wrote this earlier blog. So sue me. But we pulled out of it. Considering how badly we seemed to be cockerelling the season up just a few weeks ago, that 4th place finish is no mean feat – and for all that I’ve criticised the tendency of successive Spurs teams to mislay their character over the years, the achievement of this side in recovering just enough to stumble over the line needs to be recognised.
I thought we could, and should, have made a better challenge for the title last year. This year we did, and until that epic game with Man City at their gaff we looked in with a real shout. Even after that gut-wrenching loss I didn’t feel all was lost. But Capello became the latest victim of John Terry’s self-absorbtion and the Harry for England stuff started. And that seemed to knock us more than the loss at City. I’ve never entirely bought into the theory that the players were so distracted by the thought of the manager leaving that they turned into dunderheads, but it’s hard to look at the sequence of events and say the two things are not related.
I was gently but firmly taken to task on Twitter by former Supporters Direct chief Dave Boyle for expressing the view that the FA had destabilised Spurs. I’ve got a huge amount of time for Dave, and I concede that I’ve got no evidence with which to support the claim. But the art of the deniable approach is one that’s been finely honed in British politics and I just can’t quite believe there wasn’t the old nudge and a wink and a testing of the water employed here. Sure, the Harry lobby in the press went into overdrive, and the FA can deny fuelling any of it. But the FA didn’t shut the discussion down either, instead choosing to allow speculation to affect one of its member clubs. I hope the club remembers that next time the FA needs a favour.
So why did we almost blow what seemed a nailed on third or above? People will choose the explanation that fits their foible. If you don’t like Harry you can blame some of the more bizarre tactical decisions and selections – especially the suicidal line-up selected for the Arsenal away game. If you think the standard of refereeing is pisspoor – and I’m in this camp – you can blame wrongly disallowed goals, Balotelli scoring the winner at City after he should have been sent off, or Chris Foy’s scandalously incompetent performance at Stoke. You can also blame whichever individual player you don’t like for whichever individual mistake rankles, or the collective character of the team for the times when they didn’t turn up. Or the board’s serial failure to recruit early which left us unbalanced against two of the three teams which finished above us when the season began. In the end, one more point would have given us third. One point. Finding wherever there is comfort there is pain, only one step away.
What happens next? In my fantasy football chairman role, here’s what I’d do. I’d stick with Redknapp – if I could sit down with him and be sure he was fully focussed on Spurs. There’s one more year on his contract, and unless he wants his legacy to be ‘Almost there’ he needs to win a major trophy with Spurs in what could be his last year in the job. So there’s certainly incentive there.
I’d back Redknapp with some serious transfer cash, but also try to ensure we didn’t simply make signings for the short term. And I’d get the business done early, rather than leaving it until deadline day and in the process writing off the first nine points of the season. I’d also stop sending all the younger players out on loan quite so freely, and look instead to integrate them into the squad through better rotation.
A striker – a proper, powerful, goalscoring striker – would be a priority. If we get the CL, how about a bid for Cisse? We also need at least one centre back, a goalkeeper – Friedel’s been great but I can’t see us getting another season out of him – and competition for Lennon on the right. I’d do everything to keep Modric and Bale, realise Parker probably hasn’t got a full season in him again, and get some cover for Walker at right back.
I’d probably have little success in changing Harry’s approach, but here’s what I’d like to see change. No more deciding that some games are worth winning and some aren’t – building a strong mentality means wanting to win every game and taking defeat as a personal slight. No more daft comments to the press about players not knowing who the next opponent is – they make everyone concerned look stupid. And no more criticising the fans for wanting success and not being sufficiently grateful.
To sum up – it was one of the best seasons in years. It could yet end in disappointment, but let’s get some perspective. In modern football coming fourth is more important than winning a cup. So we celebrate not winning something, and then we get annoyed about the level we haven’t won at. It’s certainly a funny old game. The league as a whole is more competitive than it has been for years, sides which play good and ambitious football (step up especially Swansea) have been rewarded, while anti-football sides such as Stoke have been found out. There’s genuine excitement and unpredictability once more – what sport should be about.
In truth, I can’t get that excited about City winning the title. The team played some great football, but how hard can it be not to when your approach is to simply stockpile the best players in the world until you find the right combination? City fans may bridle at the charge that they bought the title, pointing to the amounts spent by champions going back years. They’ve got a point, but even moneybags Man United combine expensive signings with players they’ve brought through the system. Not too many youth academy stars at City.
But back to the positives. My player of the season? I still think Modric was better and more influential than many gave him credit for, but I’ll concede he needs to do more to impose himself on games sometimes. Being played in the right position would help. I’ll never stop loving watching Bale in full flight, Rafa is just one of my favourite all-round Spurs people ever, and Parker has been immense. But my vote would go to Kyle Walker. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t been a first team regular for years.
Positives too from some negatives. What happened to Fabrice Muamba at the Bolton game put all our gripes about a game into perspective, reminding us what is really important and demonstrating the power and hope generated by people showing the best of humanity. And the terrible riots which overshadowed the start of the season may just have been the catalyst for Spurs to not only stay in Tottenham, but to take on more fully the responsibility of helping to regenerate an area that is in so much need.
And finally, my favourite moment of the season? Bale’s goal against Norwich. I was mesmerised by it then and I can still watch it on endless loop and never tire of it. Proper Spurs.
For now, I’m off to dig out my sleeveless denim jacket, brush off my mullet, grow a moustache and drink frothing beer served in oversized tankards by buxom frauleins. Come on Bayern!