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Monday, March 1, 2004

The great entertainers

Steve Wilson

Ask any White Hart Lane regular and he or she will insist there is a particular 'Spurs way of playing'.

Defoe and Keane have hit it off straight away for Spurs (ChristopherLee/GettyImages)

Harking back across the decades to Bill Nicholson's great double winning side of 1960/61; Jimmy Greaves' astonishing goal-scoring feats; the pioneering arrival of Latin flair in the form of World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa; the elegant style of Glenn Hoddle and, as football entered its present incarnation, the redoubtable talents of Chris Waddle and the irrepressible Paul Gascoigne: fans of the 'other' big North London team have truly been spoiled.

But more recently the football on offer has been of more basic fare. Spurs fans have watched as their place amongst England's, never mind Europe's, elite has been eroded. Under the stewardship of a series of short-term and unsuccessful managers - including the pragmatic and decidedly un-Tottenham Christian Gross and George Graham - they have settled into a pattern of mediocrity: too good to realistically fear relegation but unable to mount a credible European challenge.

With the likes of Steffen Freund and Tim Sherwood at the heart of midfield in recent times the notion of Spurs as a renowned footballing side has started to look like an anachronism. However, something has changed and there is a new 'Spurs way of playing': free flowing attack coupled with kamikaze defending.

In their last four matches in league and cup David Pleat's side have scored 15 times and conceded 13.

They have soundly beaten a side with realistic hopes of Champions League qualification; thrown away a three-nil half-time lead to a side who had not won in 14 attempts in the league, at home, playing ten men; allowed a side who had scored just three times on their travels to double that tally while still winning the game and had to rely on a last minute equaliser against arguably the worst team in the league after leading 3-1 in the second-half. In short, Spurs are the new entertainers.

But are their hard to please fans happy? No, and nor should they be. Registering four goals in three successive top-flight games is no mean feat but the way in which match winning positions have been turned on their head through brittle defending suggests all is far from well.

Outside the big three no one had scored more goals this season than Spurs going into last weekend's fixtures and it's easy to see why. A striking roster of Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe, Freddie Kanoute and Helder Postiga would suggest that they should be competing for silverware.

Indeed, Defoe's arrival in the January transfer window, and subsequent seamless partnership with Keane, has been the catalyst for the recent upturn in attacking fortunes with four goals in three Premiership starts.

But if it's easy to understand why they are a potent threat going forward, it's even more obvious why they are shipping goals for fun. A powderpuff midfield offers little or no protection to a back line that has never recovered from the defection of Sol Campbell to their nearest (geographical) rivals.

Spurs badly lack a decent holding midfield player to break up play and shield the back four. Such is the desperate need for that type of player at White Hart Lane that, in recent weeks, the promising young centre-back Ledley King has been asked to assume the role.

King was a revelation for England in his full debut against Portugal in his more familiar position, ably dealing with some of Europe's most gifted forwards and he is clearly a star of the future. His performances in Tottenham's midfield have earned equally positive reviews but by plugging the leak in one part of the pitch another has sprung elsewhere.

King is sorely missed in defence as was witnessed during the capitulation against Leicester. Gary Doherty will have to go a long way to put in a worse performance than he did at White Hart Lane and was directly culpable for two of the goals conceded. With Doherty starting alongside the ageing and increasingly ineffectual Dean Richards, Spurs were as soft in central defence as they were razor sharp up front.

Tottenham have been the architects of their own troubles in assembling this imbalance of riches. Over the last eight seasons they have bankrolled a transfer policy that could at best be described as careless.

Since the summer of 1996 they have rung up a deficit on player moves of over ?67million and have consistently been one of the Premiership's big spenders. When you compare that figure with Arsenal's for the same period, ?43million, it becomes obvious that mistakes have been made.

Gary Doherty: Nightmare performance against Leicester (PhilGilham/GettyImages)

The four main first team strikers alone have cost around ?25 million but, the stuttering start to Postiga's time in England and the mysterious decline of Sergei Rebrov apart, the goals for column shows a return on their investment in forwards. The combined fees of ?15 million for Ben Thatcher, Goran Bunjevcevic and Campbell's replacement Dean Richards on the other hand look like less sound business.

Yet, with the continued development of King and Anthony Gardner promising a stable partnership for years to come it is the central midfield that has been most neglected to the detriment of Spur's ambition's to regain a top club status.

Stop-gap buys such as Gustavo Poyet and Jamie Redknapp have proved only fitfully successful and whilst Michael Brown has proved himself a star of the First Division only time will tell if he can make the step up in class.

What Spurs fans are crying out for is a Patrick Vieira or a Roy Keane and envious eyes must be often cast in the direction of Highbury and, more pertinently, Old Trafford. For while Keane is out of Tottenham's league his Manchester United understudy should not be.

Nicky Butt was courted by Pleat during the January transfer window after it became clear that his first team opportunities are now limited by the reinvention of Phil Neville as a midfield lynchpin.

Butt seemed to have accepted his fate and was considering a move. The stumbling block appeared to be his reluctance to move down a level and his high wage demands.

However, it is difficult to see any bigger club than Spurs coming in for the England man and if they are realistic about challenging for honours again they would be wise to break the bank for the type of player they so patently need.

Recent transfer activities suggest that Tottenham would be able to find the required funds if a deal could be struck and from Butt's point of view, regular first team action is a must if he is to hold off the assault on his England place by a host of emerging, young English midfield talents.

When Daniel Levy finally gets round to tempting someone to fill the managerial hot seat at the Lane, the incoming boss would do well to put the United player on the top of his summer shopping list. Only when some steel is added to the Spurs midfield can the silk of their attacking play make a three goal lead a safe one.

soccernet
 

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Dont know if you can really call what we've been served with recently as entertainment :howler: :D instead it's made us more into of a laughing stock than we already are!

Bring back George Graham!!!
 

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I think the recent weeks have been very entertaining, if desasterous for my nerves. But as long as we score 4 times and the opponent 3 times, I am just fine. Of course the question is: what happens if our scoring knack runs dry?

Wally, do you really want george Graham back??
 

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Well he isn't top of my list but I wouldn't mind to see George Grahamlike defences at the Lane. WE've gone back a few years since we replaced him with Hoddle :(
 
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