Updated: May 10, 2020
I had an enjoyable evening doing the Spurs Show podcast last night with Theo Delaney, David Hepworth and former Spurs DJ Willie Morgan, the man who coined “Good afternoon and welcome to White Hart Lane, the world famous home of the Spurs”. We engaged in the normal knocking around of ideas and opinions, getting pretty quickly into the ‘AVB or not AVB’ debate.
It’s a debate that is still embraced keenly by a section of Spurs fans, particularly when the “AVB or Harry?” issue is mixed in. I find it all a bit odd, not least because many Spurs fans have been critical of a perceived willingness by Harry-friendly sections of the press to pick holes in AVB. There are enough Spurs fans to hold pretty much every opinion imaginable on every subject, and we all see things differently. But here’s my take on the manager issue, something which I’ll use to draw a line under the debate as far as I’m concerned – and also to plug the podcast. I’m a regular multimedia operator and no mistake.
There are many stories, few of which can be reproduced, about why Harry Redknapp is no longer the Spurs manager. The only thing we can be reasonably certain we know for sure is that we’ll never know for sure. The official announcement said Redknapp would be “leaving his post” and thanked him for “his achievements and contribution”. Speculation that the club wanted a more forward-looking manager seemed to be backed up by the appointment of AVB. And since AVB came there seems to be more of a willingness to use the younger players, certainly a more evident determination to take every competition seriously, and a hint of a more tactually flexible approach, or at least a plan B.
On all of those fronts, Redknapp received some criticism, even from those who, like me, rated his time in charge as one of the best we’ve seen at Spurs. And under both Redknapp and AVB, the team plays football that’s good to watch – although not in every game.
I’ve mentioned before that a turning point was the League Cup game at Carlisle, when the team was switched around without the kind of disruption that most famously manifested itself in the farcical FA Cup performance at Stevenage last year. This seems to be a team with a clear idea of where it wants to go.
Of course, there are some gripes about AVB – even so soon. There were a couple of home performances that, frankly, stank. There’s a worrying pattern emerging that sees us play well for 60 minutes, then go defensive and bring Jake Livermore on only to invite a barrage of pressure. And we’ve yet to put together a consistently good 90 minutes – although the performance at Old Trafford came pretty close. But these are early days. It does seem a bit like reaching for the 1,001 available football cliches, but the new manager needs to be given time.
Comparing his record already with Redknapp’s seems a bit daft. Willie Morgan said on the podcast that AVB would need to match 5th or 4th to be considered a success. I’m certainly hoping for a top 4 finish, and I think this squad is capable of it. But saying that AVB must match what Redknapp did last season assumes that Redknapp would have matched what he did last season. We’ll never know. We do know we wouldn’t have Modric, and we’d probably not have made the signings we have. We may even have lost the services of Gareth Bale – a player who did not hesitate to sign straight up after AVB’s appointment. There’s also the not inconsequential matter of having to compete with other teams who have improved on last season.
So I don’t think AVB should be measured against the undoubted success that Redknapp helped Spurs to achieve. It’s not a like-for-like comparison – although I don’t expect the Redknapp lobby on the nationals to let that stop them pronouncing AVB a failure if we don’t get at least 4th. The question that should be asked is, is AVB doing a good job in taking Spurs forward in a sustainable manner? I’m encouraged by what I see, but the first time we’ll be able to make a proper judgement is at the end of the season. Maybe AVB will have helped Spurs win something, maybe we won’t have spectacularly collapsed in a crunch game, maybe we’ll carry on going to places such as Old Trafford without expecting to lose. Much as I loved being a Spurs fan when Redknapp was in charge, those were gripes that were never assuaged.
I’m perfectly happy to acknowledge all the good Redknapp did while also backing AVB. The most obvious reason is that AVB is there now. But I think he is a progressive manager who can fashion an exciting team and build something sustainable. In the end you have to try to put yourself in Daniel Levy’s position at the end of last season. In that circumstance, you would have had to ask yourself, “Is the manager I’ve got capable of getting more success than he already has, and if so has he got a good chance of sustaining that?” And if you gave yourself an honest answer, I’m pretty convinced you wouldn’t have said “Yes”. For all the nonsense that was spouted by Redknapp’s press mates after he left about how “ungrateful” Spurs were, the fact is that sometimes you have to move on.
You also have, if you are in a position of responsibility, to take important decisions. All you can ask of anyone taking an important decision is that they take it for the right reasons. And for the reasons I’ve outlined above, I think Daniel Levy took the decision for the right reason. That won’t change however this season turns out. And that’s why, from now on, I’m going to look forwards, not back.
• If you tune in to the podcast this week, you’ll get the chance to win a copy of the latest book by me and Adam Powley, The Spurs Miscellany. This latest edition is fully updated and contains a wealth of new material.