Welcome to Part 1 of our Tottenham Pre-Season coverage. Answering questions for us today is the Premier League Owl. Seb runs a very, very good football website and can be found on twitter where he spends a lot of time combating football stupidity.
Hi Seb, thanks for coming on. I imagine as a Spurs fan last season was not particularly satisfying… What are reasonable expectations for you lot this coming season?
Last season was a strange situation, because the club’s finishing position wasn’t actually that disappointing – rather, it was the route taken to achieve it that was so underwhelming. Finishing sixth in the Premier League is no disgrace for a club with Tottenham’s resources, but it felt like a very distant sixth and at no point did the team look like a credible rival to any of the top-four sides.
So, maybe this season isn’t really about positions or material success, but about spirit and pride? A unwelcome constant in almost all of those games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea was just how beaten Spurs looked after going a goal behind. They were too many players who accepted defeat too readily and who weren’t hurt enough by being humiliated – at times it was sickening to watch. Some members of the squad knew in the second half of the season that they were playing for a caretaker rather than a proper manager and they very obviously tempered their commitment in response.
The expectation – or hope – is that, with Mauricio Pochettino’s appointment, some kind of winning mentality re-emerges.
The improvement in other sides – and Daniel Levy’s reluctance to sanction any real spending – means that fifth or sixth is probably par again, and that would be fine – just as long as it’s achieved with a bit of back-bone and without the periodic thumpings.
There was lots of talk after selling Gareth Bale that his (many) replacements would help Spurs improve, if perhaps not filling the void left by the Welshman. By and large they haven’t yet worked out, for instance the badly misfiring Roberto Soldado and the strange disappearance of Erik Lamela; Are there any of last year’s recruits you think can turn their Spurs’ careers around?
I think most of those players have been done a disservice and that they have become collectively devalued by their association with a very negative season. No, Tottenham didn’t get £100m of value out of them, but they haven’t bought as badly as is popularly believed.
Christian Eriksen is an exceptionally gifted playmaker and he will hopefully benefit from having a full pre-season in England, Nacer Chadli and Etienne Capoue both have their uses, and Vlad Chiriches is a better defender than most seem to realise.
Roberto Soldado could be anything this season, and I think that’s the story of his career – he was prolific at Valencia, but in a patchy, form-reliant way. He has always been susceptible to dips in confidence, and quite clearly last season his morale collapsed – he didn’t adjust to the managerial change-over, he lost his place in the team, and his wife suffered a miscarriage in the middle of the season. England hasn’t been good to him and his personal and professional life seemed to be equally hellish in 2013/14.
Can he turn it around? There are too many variables to make a confident prediction. He’s very reliant on the system he plays in and on the traits and form of those players around him, and until Tottenham’s structural future becomes a little clearer it’s really guesswork as to whether he will thrive under Pochettino.
Lamela is different, though. If you look at Pochettino’s work at Southampton – specifically with Jay Rodriguez – you would say that he is the ideal manager for the Argentine. Pochettino has shown that he knows how to use an elegant, wide-forward and has shown that he knows how to do it in English football. Lamela is at his best when he’s drifting in-field and roaming into central, offensively-pertinent areas, and unless Pochettino’s attacking philosophy has changed within the last two months that’s exactly what he’ll now be doing.
Now last season City handed two pretty significant beatings to Spurs. Are there any obvious changes you’d make to stop that happening again?
Yes, happy memories.
There’s no collective analysis for those two games, because I felt at the time that they happened for very different reasons.
At The Etihad, Spurs just didn’t recover from conceding so early and Jesus Navas’ goal clearly decimated their game-plan. There aren’t too many teams who can handle going behind at The Etihad emotionally, and the more Tottenham struggled the worse it ultimately got. Yes, there’s a point to be made about the attacking/defensive balance Andre Villas-Boas instituted after conceding, but there were so many individual errors and the team had so little confidence that it’s not reductive just to say that they weren’t good enough.
The second game, in contrast, was a tactical disaster and it showed Tim Sherwood for who he really was. Nabil Bentaleb had been promoted into the first-team and, initially, had done very well. In that game, though, Sherwood hung him out to dry: you do not play against a side like Manchester City without a combative, ball-winning midfielder, and the decision to pair Bentaleb with Mousa Dembele was a disaster waiting to happen.
It was either ridiculously naive or unforgivably arrogant, and it was the product of a manager either not knowing the strengths of his own players or under-estimating those of his opponent.
How do you stop it happening again? You don’t employ a manager who uses a game against the strongest side in the country as the time to try and make a tactical statement.
As writers go, you come across as more sympathetic to City than most (thanks, by the way). As a club, what do you think City could be doing better at the moment?
Well, I don’t pretend to know City all that well and my knowledge of them is very surface-deep, but from the outside there doesn’t appear to be a developing tier of talent.
Chelsea – unfortunately – provide us with a very good example of how to combat the Financial Fair Play regulations and their loan/hoarding philosophy will undeniably allow them to both supplement their first-team in the coming years and be aggressive in the transfer-market. Conversely, where are the young, developing City players? There aren’t any of note at smaller Premier League clubs, and although good things are apparently expected of Marcos Lopes he seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
That might be completely wrong and maybe the club’s academy is strong enough not to warrant pursuing the same approach as Chelsea, but to the casual observer it appears to be a significant difference.
Finally, if you could take one City player for your starting XI, who would you have?
David Silva. All day, no hesitation.
If you transplanted Silva into the Tottenham line-up, I don’t think the side would necessarily be transformed in any way, but he’s still the City player who I admire the most.
Talent-wise, obviously, he’s a beautiful footballer and someone who any fan with any appreciation of the sport would fall in love with, but as a character he’s also very likeable. He never moans to the press and you never hear his agent trying to orchestrate new contract negotiations or future transfers and, in addition, there’s really nothing diva-ish about him.
In this day age, I value loyalty and humility in players almost as much ability, and David Silva has all of those qualities and more.
Thanks a lot, Seb. Good luck this season…
Interview by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter