ten words or less #102

Matchday - MLS Cup Final 2014

With a big match on the horizon this weekend in domestic football — you know, the MLS Cup Final — we thought it high time to gather the local readers/supporters together again with another watch party at our favorite local pub, Rhinehaus in Over-the-Rhine. So if you happen to be in Cincinnati this coming Sunday (12/7), be sure to swing by to have a pint with the #Pondcast team and watch as Landon does battle with Jones in the former’s last ever professional soccer match. In fact, if you are going to be in town, let us know you’re attending by RSVPing here.

In the mean time, entertain yourselves by following any of the ten links below that I dug up from around the wide world web over the last week.

TLDR; more trebles because rich teams are getting richer. – espnfc.com

If MLS sides’ shirt sponsors were local(ish) breweries. – backheel.com

Tottenham’s fall can all be blamed on John Terry. – cartilagefreecaptain.com

Interesting look at dollars spent per win/point in MLS. – dtfsoccer.wordpress.com

Classic Sepp: absolving FIFA while blaming others. – foxsports.com

Besides a few owners/league offices, everyone agrees with Robbie. – irishexaminer.com

This backheel assist from Chicharito is the stuff of legend. – gfycat.com

This most valuable clubs in the Americas list is… interesting. – forbes.com.mx

A nice gesture. But Dortmund do this every year. – independent.co.uk

Western Sydney Wanderers are Australia’s BVB. – a-league.com.au

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the men in line to be the next in line

Angry Spurs Manager Tim Sherwood

he might not like it, but sherwood will (hopefully) be replaced as spurs manager this summer… but by who?

With the Premier League season all but complete — our relegation sides now identified and the Champions League clubs now set, only some relatively meaningless shuffling of table places and the naming of a champion yet remain —  many supporters’ thoughts have drifted on to question and speculate on their clubs’ summer dealings.

How will they look to strengthen for the new season ahead?

The comings and goings of both the playing and managerial staff tend to be the primary focus of those musings, and things are no different in the N17. And with disappointing season for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club playing the role of precursor to what is likely to be another summer of upheaval at White Hart Lane, changes are certainly coming.

But with a £100 million-worth of player moves dominating Spurs’ movements in the last summer window, it’s a safe bet that the most prominent move the club will make this summer will be on the management front.

Of course in order to do that, Spurs will first need to ax current interim manager, Tim Sherwood.

But as has been long speculated — pretty much since the day of his midseason appointment — Sherwood’s days are most definitely numbered. While that’s never been outright said by Levy or the club, the writing has pretty much always been on the wall. Sherwood was never going to be anything more than a makeweight as Spurs waited for a deeper managerial pool to open up in the summer. At least that’s what I’m hoping. Because no club that truly harbors Champions League expectations should ever appoint their youth team coach with no first team management experience as the boss… right?

Anyway, speculation about Sherwood’s eventual dismissal has really amped up over the last few days, and it got me wondering: who would Spurs bring in to replace Tim?

So in an effort to calm my nervous fears that the club is imploding, I figured it might be worth a look at the current candidates being mooted as favorites for the job.  Continue reading

a familiar face

You know that feeling you get when you see a former significant other for the first time in a while? All those old feelings of familiarity come rushing back to the surface: memories of the good times, the fun you had together, and the special occasions you got to experience together.

QPR manager Harry Redknapp

it’s been a while since we’ve seen redknapp’s wrinkly mug.

But just as quickly as the warm, fuzzy thoughts start to invade your brain, the bad memories come flooding back too: the hurt, the pain and the sadness. And it’s then that you remember why you went your separate ways. The bad clearly outweighed the good.

It was those exact feelings that were surging through me as I saw Harry Redknapp sitting in the visiting director’s box at Old Trafford yesterday. A typically emotionless ‘Arry watched the side he had agreed to take over only hours before surrender a second half lead and eventually lose to an under-performing Manchester United side.

In a week where Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich riduculously fired Roberto Di Matteo and replaced him with former Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez, Redknapp’s QPR appointment was never going to be anywhere near the most high-profile managers appointment. But the emotions tied up in seeing Redknapp back to work was just too much to ignore.

Seeing him spurned flashbacks to some of my most fond Spurs moments of the last four years. The resurrection from Ramos’ ruinous start. Beating City to clinch a Champions League birth. Two magical nights in Milan. Even an expletive-laden newsreel outburst can be fondly looked back upon.

But as special as all of those treasured memories are, there’s a lot that I need to remember before I get all sentimental.

‘Arry must have had an aversion to making substitutions before the 85th minute of a match. His reluctance to rotate the squad and keep players fresh, not to mention a lack of tactical awareness. What about his tax evasion trial, a major distraction for the squad during the early winter months of last season? And of course, let’s not forget his complete lack of commitment to Spurs and losing focus on the job at hand at the end of the campaign.

QPR defense beat by Chicharito

the QPR defense desperately needs reinforcing in january. but will have harry have money available to spend to do so?

So when Daniel Levy rightly dismissed Redknapp at the end of last season, I was trumpeting the idea as a good one. But like every break up where there were plenty of good times, his departure was bittersweet.

Had you told me, Harry or anyone else six months ago that he would be taking over the reigns at Loftus Road, we all probably would have dragged you off to the loony bin. The England job seemed the most likely outcome, but staying on at White Hart Lane was a close second. But QPR? That seemed about as realistic as him taking over my Sunday league side.

Whether Redknapp has it in him to turn yet another side around, I’m not quite sure. This isn’t a situation like the dysfunctional-yet-talented Tottenham side that Harry took over four years ago. This is a QPR side that lacks a single solid defender, which spent lavishly on midfielders and strikers without a playing style in mind, and a disillusioned fan base. They’re the only winless side left in the Premier League, and confidence is hovering somewhere around zero. It’s a tall ask, even for someone of Harry’s pedigree. And Rangers’ fans better just hope a better job doesn’t open up while he’s in their hot seat, as history tells us he’ll bolt.

So just like that chance encounter with your ex, when your eyes eventually catch theirs, you give them a small, knowing smile from across the room — maybe even a small wave of acknowledgement. And then you thank you’re lucky stars that you’re not the stuck with them anymore. Just like I do with old ‘Arry.

the ups and downs of a transition

When Daniel Levy decided back in June that Harry Redknapp era needed to come to an early end and that he should replace him with André Villas-Boas, he was making a calculated decision. Unseating a manager with a proven track record only to replace him with one who’s relatively unproven was always going to have its pitfalls. He knew what he was getting himself into.

Andre Villas Boas

appointing villas-boas meant that spurs knew there would be bumps along the road.

Villas-Boas’ arrival meant wide scale changes were in store. The playing style would change, personnel would change, and — to an extent — the club’s philosophy would change. New players with a different style would arrive, while some familiar faces would depart. New ways of thinking would be required, and it would understandably take time to implement changes of such magnitude. Experience would also be sacrificed. Redknapp’s 29 years in management is only six less than Villas-Boas has even been alive. Harry’s Portuguese successor would still be learning his craft, and he should be expected to make some mistakes from time to time. Setbacks would undoubtedly occur as the new manager, the players and the club feel one another out. Transitions, after all, are rarely completely smooth.

And without a doubt, certain segments of the support would take great offense to the move. Dismissing a man who hoisted Tottenham from the ashes of the short-lived Juande Ramos era to the lofty heights of the Champions League quarterfinals and two top four finishes would ruffle a few supporters’ feathers. The same discontent would arise when his the man named to replace him had “failed” with a Chelsea side that won the Champions League.

Knowing all of that before hand, why in the name of Bill Nicholson would Levy pull the trigger on sacking Redknapp and hiring AVB in the first place?

His reasoning was actually pretty straightforward: for Tottenham Hotspur to reach its long-term goals of competing for trophies on a regular basis, some short-term risks would have to be taken. Levy thought long and hard about his options and decided that, despite all of the risks, this was the best way to move the club forward.

Vertonghen and Caulker

those who say AVB has done nothing so far at spurs must have missed out on caulker’s rise and vertonghen’s influence.

The funny part? I would have written the above passages even if Spurs had wiped the floor with Chelsea Saturday instead of the exact opposite happening. Had they won their fifth straight Premier League match, I would have wanted this post to temper expectations and remind everyone that there would be setbacks yet to come. The bipolar nature of the support means that the same lot of Spurs fans who would be talking all sorts of nonsense about challenging for the title/being favorites for the Europa League/yadda yadda yadda are most likely the same group that are calling for AVB’s head despite having only suffered his second loss all season. Both lines of logic are premature, and only time and the results will tell how that will turn out.

Yet despite the loss, the signs progress are quite clear.

Prior to Saturday’s setback against Chelsea — who were undoubtedly the best side we’ve faced so far this season — Villas-Boas had guided Spurs to four wins in a row and was unbeaten in six, results that Redknapp wasn’t anywhere near able to produce in the first half of 2012. He’s wisely promoted Steven Caulker into the starting XI (a move ‘Arry also would have been quite adverse to) and has gotten the most out of new signing “Super Jan” Vertonghen. Oh yeah, and André also managed the small task of coming away from Old Trafford with all three points for the first time in my lifetime.

Let’s be clear, though still finding their feet themselves, Chelsea are a great side and have quickly morphed into a potentially devastating side. So there’s no shame in conceding points to them, especially this early into the transitional period under AVB. And even though the score line wasn’t exactly flattering, there were bright spots within the match that show what he’s doing for the club.

Moussa Dembele

even without spurs’ new creative engine dembélé, the lillywhites at times still looked to trouble the european champions.

Even though the lead was eventually squandered, the young manager was able to rally the troops at half time and inspire them to come from behind and tilt the game on its head. They were able to do one better at QPR, where they reversed an early deficit and held on to win. Rallies of that type were another rare occurrence under Redknapp. They attacked remarkably well despite Gareth Bale missing the match to become a father and the increasingly vital Moussa Dembélé through injury. And after 8 matches, Spurs are still sitting fifth in the table… ahead of Arsenal too, if that makes you feel any better.

So things could be worse. Which means we all need to calm down, quit spazzing and realize the position in which Tottenham currently find themselves: a transition period.

Instead, let’s just hope that Villas-Boas is learning his lessons… primarily that we can NOT sit back and park the bus once we take the lead against top sides. In both matches, Chelsea and United both pulverized Spurs once they relented in attack and decided to try to defend their leads.

AVB’s clearly a smart guy, so I’m confident he is taking lessons from those results. Give him time. Give Spurs time. Just like Levy calculated, we’re already on our way to bigger and better things.

nowhere to look but forward

It’s an odd situation, writing about Harry Redknapp leaving his post as manager of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. The manner in which he’s leaving the club, by sacking, was not at all the way we expected it all to go down.

so as redknapp fades into spurs’ history, where do we go from here?

Really though, we Spurs supporters have been preparing ourselves for this moment ever since Capello vacated the England post back in February, when press darling ‘Arry was promptly declared defacto manager in waiting. He never denied his “lifelong” ambition to take over the English reigns — and maybe even falling just short of publicly flirting with FA chairman David Bernstein whenever the media inevitably asked him about the position at match pressers or his car window — and never once fully committing himself to Spurs for any amount of time. Understandably, this irked me.

So when the season quickly took a nosedive, and Redknapp refused to admit that his lack of focus could have had anything to do with it, I legitimately felt rage. I wanted him off, and even postured potential replacements, and eagerly awaited his departure.

Then Hodgson ended up being named England manager, meaning Redknapp would therefore be staying with Spurs… and suddenly he was negotiating a new contract.

What?!?!

Why we were choosing to reward the guy who had just spent the last four months publicly courting the FA instead of focusing on what should have been an easy stretch of our crucial campaign was beyond me. But I could see the logic in trying to tie him down for stability’s sake. Still, I had been openly declaring my desire for a new manager for half a season. And thanks to a surprising(ly intelligent) decision by the FA, I was suddenly forced to resign myself to another season of rollercoaster Redknapp football. The whole mess had me feeling very conflicted.

roy’s suprise three lions appointment forced us all to accept that we were stuck with redknapp.

Look, I’m very thankful for what Redknapp has done for us. He not only rescued us from relegation when he was first appointed four years ago, but he’s transformed us from an under performing club with high expectations into one of the most talented sides in English football with even higher expectations. But if this past season has taught us anything, it’s that we had reached a plateau with Harry at the helm. The lack of squad rotation, the poor tactical decisions, the patch-work “veterans on the cheap” transfer policy, the lack of decisiveness in moments of importance were all signs that Spurs aren’t going to advance any farther with Redknapp leading the way.

And the boys probably would have been fine with Harry in charge for another year or two. But things would have continued to grow stale and Redknapp was never going to display the same drive again.

Ultimately, it was the above mentioned contract talks that lead to his downfall. Redknapp’s repeated claims that he had “done what was asked” by finishing fourth, tells us that he thought he deserved an extension of three years as a reward. But those comments were always meant to skirt around the issue of Tottenham not getting to go to the Champions League, which was the actual goal Levy and company had in mind. If he had delivered that prize, his audacious claim for three more years (which he only desired so he could receive a better payoff when he was eventually sacked) wouldn’t have fallen on such unwilling ears. When Levy wouldn’t budge off his one-year extension offer, Redknapp ultimately knew his leverage had vaporized. Not only had not achieved the club’s legitimate goal, but he affected that outcome by his own actions.

The writing was on the wall if he passed on the one year extension, and passed he did. He’d rather fall on his own sword than take responsibility for what he had caused. Par for the course for Harry.

So if I got what I wanted, why am I still writing about the matter? Well, as you might expect from my often pessimistic outlooks, I have some concerns about the timing of losing our manager. With a number of other clubs having already filled coaching vacancies, Spurs are left with a thin list of candidates that check off all the boxes for the successor to Harry’s throne.

Who could we name now that would make the footballing world stand up and take notice of our ambition? Mourinho signed a contract extension with Madrid. Ancelotti is on a long-term deal with PSG where he has nearly unlimited funds at his disposal. Guus Hiddink finds himself in a similar situation with Russian rich-boys Anzhi. The promising Brendan Rodgers was scooped up by Liverpool, just as Paul Lambert was by Aston Villa. Marcelo Bielsa even re-upped with Athletic Bilbao. I’m not even going to consider Pep Guardiola, given that scenario doesn’t even seem realistic in a fantasy.

That leaves us with the at least the Premier League-experienced David Moyes, André Villas-Boas, Roberto Martinez and — god I hope not — Rafa “The fat Spanish waiter” Benítez. If Levy is willing to look for managers without Premier League experience, some of the names that have bounced around include Didier Deschamps, Fabio Capello and Laurent Blanc. Each has their faults, just as they each have benefits too.

moyes may be the bookmaker’s favorite to replace ‘arry, but whoever ends up getting the gig will have a tough task on his hands.

I don’t have any inside track on who’s gong to land the position, and I will undoubtedly have strong feelings about whomever is eventually named. Moyes seems the most likely, but that doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee. Football always finds a way to surprise. Whether any of the others mentioned are realistic options remains to be seen, as well.

All I know is that whoever we end up naming, it needs to happen in extremely short order. Like in the next week or so. And as soon as he’s named, Levy needs to immediately announce that said manager is being backed with a sizable transfer war chest and that Spurs are going nowhere. These two actions will not only help to reassure the worried fan base, but also serve to stop any potential squad exodus.

If Modrić wants to go, let him (so long as it’s for a ludicrous sum). But everyone else needs to stay, and reinforcements need to be recruited. Otherwise, Spurs will be going somewhere: back to mid-table mediocrity.

However, for this transition to really go as smoothly as possible, something else needs to happen that falls outside of Levy’s control. We, the fans, have to get behind the chairman and his pick for manager.

There’s no sense in looking backwards any longer. What’s done is done. It’s in the past, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Showing the players, the manager and the board that our love for the Cockerel isn’t affected by such dramatics will go a long way to getting this club back to the place we want to be. Maybe even higher.

ten words or less #52

Bolton's Fabrice Muamba

it’s alright fabrice, some dust blew into my eyes just prior kickoff too.

With the European season winding down, high drama is in overtime with all of the various plot lines around the world of football starting to reach their conclusions. The title race, the war for the Champions League places and the relegation scrap are all reaching fever pitch entering the last two weeks of the season in the Premier League. Montpellier, just a few matches away from claiming their first ever Ligue 1 title, spectacularly lost their cool and will now be without captain Younes Belhanda for the rest of campaign through suspension. Real Madrid even bagged their first La Liga title in four years, prompting celebrations in the Spanish capital that thousands of toddlers around Spain had never seen before.

That’s not even including all of the transfer speculation heating up… lucky you, I’m not going to even broach that subject today. Instead, I provide you these ten links in less than 100 words to get your weekend off to a roaring start.

Muamba’s return to the Reebok… tugs at the heart-strings. – news.sky.com

A clever bit of “Barça Iconography”: their own Holy Trinity. – twitter/#/Paul_Morrissey

Why I live on the wrong side of the pond. – deadspin.com

Ironically, a great thread arguing how American soccer actually is.
– reddit.com/user/botron

Someone lock this man in a hotel room, too. – kickette.com

Like the soap opera Dreamteam, except it’s a real team. – dirtytackle.net

Guess which of these gimmicky products I formerly owned. – theclassical.org

The Rust Belt Derby… a non-manufactured, organic rivalry. – soccernews.com

Why Woy is the wight man fow the job. – zonalmarking.net

If WSOTP had an office, this would hang there. – kckrs.com

worst case scenario

This piece is a short excerpt from my second featured post on the Tottenham Hotspur podcast/blog website www.TheFightingCock.co.uk. To read it in it’s entirety, please click here or click the link at the end of the post.

Tottenham's Daniel Levy

levy has a lot of work to do to right tottenham's ship, regardless of whether we finish third, fourth or fifth.

Labeling Spurs’ close to the season as a disaster — which has involved pissing away a sizable third-place gap and free-falling as low as fifth — would be a massive understatement.

What a difference a few months of bad form can make. Back in January, I was filling this space with ideas on how Spurs should bolster their ranks in the summer to strengthen the squad ahead of our next Champions League campaign. Now, we’re staring headlong into another season in the perpetual wasteland that is the Europa League and facing the prospects of having to sell off our best players. At least that’s what everyone suspects will happen if the boys continue on as they have in the second half of the season. And describing it as a “worst case scenario” seems apt, though I admittedly understand there are those facing an even more horrible fate.

How it’s gone down isn’t worth rehashing in detail since Tottenham’s demise has been well documented, and because I’m trying to spare myself from reliving the nightmares. That said, I will continue to give Harry Redknapp a dirty look from across the room, just in case you need a hint at who I’d like to blame.

So assuming the cookie completely crumbles, where do we go from here? If we take on some optimism — something that’s become increasingly rare at White Hart Lane and in Spurs forums over the last few months — it would leave you to believe that things can only go up from here. But considering this was the season formerly hailed as the “best for Spurs in a generation”, common sense tells me things could potentially get much, much worse. Therefore, if we do end up on the outside looking in of the Champions League, the question becomes, “How do we stop the slide and get things back on track?”

Continue reading “Worst case scenario” on The Fighting Cock →

digging deep

Dig within. Within is the wellspring of Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig. – Marcus Aurelius

bale and company have the ability.

Perpetual gloom and doom hangs over White Hart Lane these days, at least that’s how it has felt the last few weeks. Spurs’ terrible run of form would normally be enough to drag squad and fan spirits down on its own, but Muamba’s near-tragedy on pitch last weekend was another blow to the collective despair that currently surrounds the club. The feeling is pervasive, and seems to have reached every corner of the Tottenham’s being.

Our manager has had his head turned, and predictably lost the plot because of it. Though injuries have forced his hand at times, Harry’s willingness to mess with a winning formula has been confounding. Gareth Bale is one of the world’s finest left wingers: let’s let him wander the middle of the pitch or switch him temporarily permanently to the right. Luka Modrić is one of the most sought-after center midfielders in the game: it will be best to play him wide left where he won’t see enough touches to impact the match. We’ve been one of the best sides this season at stretching the pitch and playing direct: maybe we should play narrow and through the middle now… you know, just for shits and giggles.

Speaking of injuries, they’ve finally hit us hard enough to hurt. Though not a world-class player in the same sense as Modders, Bale or Rafa, Aaron Lennon’s absence has been very influential. His pace, when paired with Bale’s on the opposite side, is crucial to Spurs’ ability to stretch opposing defenses and make room for the more creative players to orchestrate opportunities. Without Adebayor up top, we’ve lost the target man and hold-up play a direct offense requires. That’s not to mention that we’re only another Gallas hamstring away from having a legitimate crisis at center half. And with Scott Parker looking rusty the last few matches, perhaps we can again find fault in the manager. Undoubtedly, Redknapp’s reluctance to rotate the squad earlier this season looks to have come back to haunt him.

Then, of course, there’s that pesky drop in form I mentioned earlier. A quick glance at the League Form Table over the last 8 games sees us sitting a paltry 13th, just ahead of relegation candidate QPR and just behind potential top four foe and weekend opponent Chelsea. Had it not been for van der Vaart’s last gasp header against Stoke on Wednesday night, we’d be sitting in at least 16th. If you’re at all worried about Saturday’s visit to Stanford Bridge, I would strongly recommend not having a look at Tottenham’s form over their last five away fixtures… unless you’re feeling up for a/n panic attack/aneurysm.

Some of our fellow supporters have even started turning on the players, which is equal parts predictable and deplorable. How telling the boys that they’re worth “less than poo” will benefit them or spur them on to victory is beyond me, but who am I to judge how other’s cope with such a drop in fortunes?

To make use of an overused Austin Powers phrase, it’s clear that Tottenham as a whole have “lost their mojo”. The swagger and confidence that oozed from the side and fanbased in the first two-thirds has been suppressed. But despite all of that, I’m relatively calm heading into the clash with Chelsea.

So what if the injury bug persists, likewise if Redknapp continues to experiment. Who cares if the Scum have erased the gap. Those are all worrying and troublesome, but all hope is not lost.

chelsea and torres have struggled for form themselves.

Firstly, of all the “Big Four” sides that we could be facing this weekend, Chelsea are ones I most prefer. As mentioned earlier, the Blues aren’t exactly in the best run of form themselves, and they’re arguably the only club in the Premier League that have had more internal drama than Spurs this season. John Terry should be missing through injury — hardly a good omen for a team who’s been defensively fragile this year — and will instead do his best to play managerial puppeteer to interim boss Roberto di Matteo. And even though Torres finally ended his 25+ hour goalless streak, his mental stability is anything but proven at this point.

Secondly, it’s not like we’ve been playing absolutely horrible football of late. There have been flashes of the old Spurs throughout this barren run. Against Stoke, Bale had a beautiful blast against the bar, not to mention we bossed possession. In fact Spurs have done surprisingly well in possession during this stretch, having only narrowly lost the statistical battle in three of the last eight matches (@Arsenal – 43%, @Liverpool – 48%, @City – 47%). They’ve also created nearly 50 more goal scoring opportunities than their opposition during the same run, which suggests that if their finishing improves marginally then they could start taking more points. The City match could have turned out differently had Balotelli been correctly sent off. Maybe we could have taken the spoils against United too, had Adebayor’s early goal not been incorrectly disallowed.

This is essentially the same squad that we’ve had all season, barring some minor personnel changes. We know they’re capable of turning in some breathtaking performances, ones that are more than enough to knock down a side in turmoil such as Chelsea. All we need is for the manager to place the players in the right formation, a little more belief, and a sprinkling of the luck we’ve missed out on the last few weeks, to help lift the gloom that’s hung over the club, the players and the supporters alike.

The ability that’s needed already exists in this Tottenham Hotspur side, they just need to dig deep within themselves to find it again.

the stomach punch

It’s been a long few days since the final whistle echoed from Mike Dean’s whistle at the Emirates last Sunday, and yet the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach has yet to subside. As a Tottenham supporter, I feel like the much-hyped North London Derby was a patented Bill Simmons’ “stomach punch” result.

Tottenham's Brad Friedel and Ledley King

by the look of their body language, both brad and ledley know how i feel.

Those readers familiar with ESPN writer Bill Simmons will know exactly what feeling I’m talking about… but for those you still in the dark, take this quick detour to catch up to speed.

Losing so badly to your biggest rival is always going to be a painful experience, but the manner in which Spurs fell to the Gooners and the banter/circumstances/hype that surrounded the match pre-kick off combined to make watching this loss the football equivalent of swallowing a medieval flail painful. We entered the match as favorites, sprung out to an early lead, and crashed spectacularly by allowing five unanswered goals. Out classed, out hustled, and out thought: it was an ass kicking of the highest order.

However, if I’m really attempting to use Simmon’s Levels of Losing system to describe how the 5-3 shalacking felt to a Spurs supporter, I have to admit that this wasn’t exactly a “Stomach Punch” match by definition, despite it feeling like I took one the gut. But just because it isn’t that level of a loss, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t actually be classified into several of Bill’s other categories in that column. Actually, the loss was so freaking comprehensive that simply placing it into a single level of losing doesn’t really do it justice. Let’s examine how and why this match disparagingly fits into so many categories in detail.

Level X: The Monkey Wrench
A match where either a) the manager of your team made an idiotic game decision or b) a referee robbed your team of impending victory.

Like any typical fan, the first scapegoat I targeted after a loss of this magnitude was the referee. And being completely honest, Mike Dean had a nightmare out there. And though I’d love to blame him for the Spurs’ woes, it’s important to remember that his nightmare was in both directions. His inconsistency affected both sides of the battle, and he really set a negative tone for the match by letting it get very chippy, very early. It was almost like he had been looking forward to dealing out a deck’s worth of cards, and invited it by allowing rough play from the opening whistle.

However, I’m not dense enough to think it was his fault Spurs lost so dramatically. Nor do I think his decisions swayed the outcome in the slightest. No, the root cause for this loss falls squarely on the shoulders of Tottenham’s own manager-in-demand, Harry Redknapp.

I can see the logic in why Harry opted for the same starting line-up that featured in the 5-1 demolishing of Newcastle two weeks before. But in trotting out a traditional 4-4-2 formation this past Sunday, you had to wonder if ‘Arry even remembered who we were playing. This wasn’t the depleted Newcastle side that we faced the week before — who were missing two of their normal back four (the Taylors) and their two most mercurial midfielders (Tiote and Cabaye) — but instead a balanced Arsenal 4-3-3 with a world-class striker at its apex.

My mother could have told you that the Woolrich were going to play through the middle with the extra man, and they were always going to dominate possession with only two men in the Spurs midfield. The numerical disadvantage itself was at least partially at fault for Parker’s sending off. Outnumbered, Scotty was trying to do it all on his own and, as a result, made some badly timed, lunging tackles.

Tottenham's Louis Saha

why harry chose to take off saha, who had been working twice as hard as adebayor, still confounds me.

The gaffer recognized his folly by the half, and he had the team revert to the 4-3-3 that’s brought them so much success this year… but the choices Redknapp went with to make that happen probably were only half right. Kranjčar made way for the extra central midfielder we so vitally needed in Sandro, but then van der Vaart came on for Saha to help aid possession. The problem with that was two-fold.

First, Saha wasn’t the striker that needed to come off. Adebayor was embarrassingly worthless, having reverted back to the unmotivated and lazy bastard we all hated during his stints at Arsenal and City. His work ethic was pitiful, he was constantly fishing for calls, and was generally out of position for the entirety of the match. Saha might not have the same potential in his old-man legs any longer, but at least he was using them.

Secondly, Lennon should have come in instead of Rafa. While I get the idea of bringing on the Dutchman to help wrestle away a bit of the possession, I think stretching the Arsenal defense with speed on both flanks would have been more effective than trying to beat Arsenal at the possession game they hold so central to their cause. Instead, he left Bale to wander the middle of the park like an Alzheimer’s patient and put Rafa right in the same space to do the same thing.

On the whole, it was if Harry had no clue how to approach the match. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say with the way he screwed the pooch with the match tactics, I’d think he was trying dissuade the FA from offering him for the England job. After that match, maybe I’d rather he goes anyway.

The interesting thing about the game falling into “The Monkey Wrench” category is how a good chunk of the referee qualification actually came from the Gunner faithful, who were still moaning about Dean’s decisions even after they won. The most common complaints included his awarding Gareth Bale a 33rd minute penalty for a supposed dive, and Arsenal not being awarded for two early penalties of their own for a handball on Parker and a foul on Gibbs. First off, all of those were actually correct decisions. Both Gibbs (right leg) and Szczesny (left leg) caught Bale ever-so-slightly for the penalty call, the Parker handball was unintentional and would have been extremely harsh to give, and Gibbs literally collapsed into his defender when he realized he was about to lose the ball. Secondly, quit bitching… you won, by a hefty margin. There were even a few overly enthusiastic claims that Dean was caught celebrating Tottenham’s second goal… again, from fans whose team won the damn match.

Level IX: The Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking
Sometimes you can tell right away when it isn’t your team’s day, not just the epiphany but everything that follows — every botched play; every turnover; every instance where someone on your team quits; every “deer in the headlights” look; every time an announcer says, “They can’t get anything going”… you just want it to end, and it won’t end. … but you can’t look away. It’s the sports fan’s equivalent to a ninety minute torture session.

Arsenal's Theo Walcott

if someone would have told me before the match that walcott would have a brace in the NLD, i would have laughed in their face.

Now I’m sure a load of you are screaming, “But Tottenham were up 2-0 inside of 35 minutes!” But that’s just looking at the scoreline, which told very little of the events unfolding on the field. Yes, Arsenal’s defense was horrendous in the opening half… but so was Tottenham’s. No Spurs fan in their right mind saw that opening and thought to themselves, “We’ve got this one in the bag.” I also don’t think there’s a single one of us out there that would say that this match wasn’t a full-fledged butt-kicking either.

Despite the early success with two goals, Spurs remained overly reliant on the direct route in hoofing it up to Ade/Saha. When it became apparent that this method no longer worked and Harry changed to the wider formation Tottenham should have started with in the first place, they still tried to hoof it up to a guy that wasn’t even working for the ball. Instead of bringing on Lennon and pushing Bale back out to the wing to provide a dual threat, they left him isolated, out of position in the middle. By the time they attempted to play a more possession-oriented, wider game, Arsenal had run away with the match.

It was horrible watching it go down, knowing there was nothing the boys could even do to flip the result. I would literally rather be water-boarded than be forced to watch the last 48 minutes of that match again.

Level II: The Goose/Maverick Tailspin
Cruising happily through the regular season, a potential top four team suddenly and inexplicably goes into a tailspin, can’t bounce out of it and ends up crashing for the season. 

This potential end result currently haunts my nightmares. Could this match have been the tipping point for entire season? Sure, it’s a very gloomy outlook on the effects of the match, but it’s not as if these types of collapses haven’t happened before.

Going into the match, Spurs held a relatively massive 10-point lead over their hated neighbors, a figure that could have ballooned to an insane 13 points if they had won. We had definitely been the better side up to this point in the season — at least on a consistency front — and look assured of a Champions League spot next season. Arsenal seemed ripe for the picking, fresh off of a blowout in Milan (who we scraped by last year) and a particularly poor performance against Sunderland in the FA Cup. To me, it was clear that the Tottenham players all thought they thought they could walk in and mop the floor with the Gunners… in their own kitchen, no less.

After the loss though, we’re now sitting a worryingly narrow seven points above the Gunners. With United lying in wait next weekend — and Parker suspended for his idiotic red card — that gap could easily be whittled to four points if the Arse can manage a win away to a buoyed Liverpool. If we do suffer defeat at Old Trafford too, it could be a difficult task to resuscitate our mojo for the home stretch of the season. And if we struggle to recapture that early season form, we could find ourselves slipping into a dogfight with the rivals we once felt so comfortably ahead of in the race for the Champions League.

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Many of my fellow Yiddos are calling for calm in this “crisis”, and rightly so. There’s a lot of season left to play out, and at least Spurs do have a margin — albeit a narrower one — to help fend off competition for European places. Both Chelsea and Arsenal have a tough schedule ahead of them too, so there’s plenty of chances for them both to drop points.

But I’m still going to sound the alarm simply because that’s what I do best. And we probably deserved the loss as karmic retribution for old ‘Arry letting Adebayor take a penalty in front of the Arsenal crowd.

Long story short, losing to Arsenal scares me. And though it’s been bad having their uppity fans rub the loss in our faces, it would be even worse if they ended up in the higher position at the close of the season. We handed our closest rivals a big boost, hopefully it won’t come back to punch us in the stomach again in May.

ten words or less #43

real madrid christmas marcelo, ramos, perez, mourinho, cassilas, higuain

even the men of real madrid thought it worth celebrating the blog's 20,000th visitor.

Despite the fact that the holidays are generally a festive time of the year, we have extra reason to celebrate on Christmas 2011: wrongsideofthepond.com crossing the 20,000 unique visitor milestone. I devoted an entire post — and even unveiled an official URL — to commemorate eclipsing the 10,000 mark, so I lament to report that I’ve only prepared you a lame-o TWOL post to celebrate this time around. I’m bad with Christmas gifts, what can I say?

I do have to admit that, after looking over that 10k post, I feel like the blog has come lightyears since. I’d like to think that my content has improved, as well as my writing… though I’ll allow you readers to have the final say on that. If nothing else, it’s been pretty cool to see how fast the site’s traffic has actually grown: while it took just under two years to hit 10,000 visitors, it only took around 10 months to double that figure. And I have to thank you, my readers, for the large part you played in helping to spread the word.

So as you gather with family, friends and the like this today, regardless your traditions, just know that whatever parades and celebrations you see on TV today are being thrown to celebrate this blog reaching such “historic” heights… and not some longstanding religious tradition or anything like that. Cheers, and Happy Holidays!

‘Arry get’s busted. Very circuitously. But still busted. – unprofessionalfoul.com

SWRL: the world’s first freestyle soccer lifestyle brand… pretty sick. – swrlworld.com

Seriously. What the hell is wrong with the Belgian league? – cheeseslices.co.uk

Not exactly a normal academy, but a great idea regardless. – kckrs.com

Enrique’s progress on bringing Barcelona to Rome. – zonalmarking.net

The Blizzard… my first digital periodical download. – theblizzard.co.uk

So if I followed, Borges is the Brazilian Darren Bent? – inbedwithmaradona.com

Even if Pepe breaks your leg, he’ll make you cookies. – dirtytackle.net