Survey: 41% of Tottenham fans say they would stop attending matches if club was subject to a Newcastle style takeover

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

The seismic nature of the Newcastle United takeover has meant that pretty much all 20 Premier League clubs feel profoundly affected in some way. Especially given the appalling human rights record of the country funding the takeover.

But it feels like there is something particularly pertinent from a Tottenham Hotspur perspective, especially with the two clubs meeting on Sunday in what is the first match of a new era at St James’ Park.

Visitors Spurs, with their self-sustaining business model, face opposition who are looking to take the steps they gradually climbed in the 2010s to become Champions League regulars a little faster than they did — by financially obliterating the competition.

Newcastle’s approach to turning themselves into trophy challengers is expected to be more like Manchester City’s under the ownership of the Abu Dhabi United Group since 2008, or Chelsea’s following the arrival of Roman Abramovich five years earlier, where elite players and managers are brought in for vast sums of money, and the sustainability element comes from the owners consistently ploughing more and more cash into the club.

Come January, they could start to make the kind of transfers that Tottenham, with their financial prudence, so rarely have.

So we wanted to ask The Athletic’s Spurs followers how they feel about the Newcastle takeover.

Are they jealous of the kind of fantasy signings who will likely soon be pitching up on Tyneside? Would they rather have a nation state such as Saudi Arabia in charge than owner ENIC? Is it about success at all costs or is there a point at which they would draw the line over who is running their club?

We had almost 2,000 responses, which give an indication of how a cross-section of the fanbase feel about the myriad issues raised by the sale of Newcastle.

A big majority would rather have Spurs’ ownership structure than Newcastle’s new Saudi-led one, but as the other questions and comments show, these are extremely complicated subjects…


The nature of these surveys means there isn’t always as much room for nuance as is sometimes necessary, which is why it is useful to also read the numerous reader comments as well as the survey responses to get a greater sense of the wider attitude towards some of the issues raised.

But starting with the numbers, almost 80% of respondents said they would rather have Spurs’ current ownership structure than Newcastle’s new one. A touch over 20% went the other way.

When it came to how respondents felt about the Newcastle takeover, 35.7% told us that disappointment was their overriding emotion. Another 17.7% answered that anger best described how they felt, followed by envy (16.1%), frustration (15.6%) and indifference (14.9%).

Asked whether seeing a takeover like the one at Newcastle, by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), happen at Tottenham would be enough for supporters to decide to stop going to matches or supporting the team, the majority (59%) said no.

Although the majority of those fans surveyed said they would continue to go to matches in such circumstances, almost three quarters (a combined 70.9%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the idea that: ‘As long as Spurs are successful, I’m not bothered about who owns the club.’

Trying to understand where some of the frustrations with ENIC lie, we asked fans the extent to which seeing Spurs being outspent in the transfer market is their main issue with the current ownership. More than half (54.8%) either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the notion, with 40.5% either agreeing or strongly agreeing.

The numbers, especially the overwhelming majority who would rather have Tottenham’s ownership than Newcastle’s, indicate how abhorrent many find the idea of being effectively taken over by a nation-state that has an awful human rights record.

Some of the comments conveyed the fact Spurs pride themselves on being an inclusive club and one whose fans could never get on board with a nation that treats women and the LGBT community so horrifically. It’s worth remembering that, this past summer, Tottenham supporters were in open revolt when it looked like Gennaro Gattuso, who had made racist and sexist comments in the past, was about to be named as the new head coach.

Respondents referred to the idea of “sportswashing” and said they would never want their club to be a vehicle for a nation such as Saudi Arabia to try to change how it is perceived by the rest of the world. On the flip side, many respondents said they could overlook these human rights concerns if it meant financing success for their club on the pitch.

The idea was also raised that it’s possible to have some sympathy with Newcastle fans, given the frugal way the club was run under Mike Ashley for the past 14 years, which included getting relegated to the Championship twice.

Some Tottenham supporters complain that chairman Daniel Levy has been similarly unwilling to splurge the London club’s money, but there is really no comparison between the two.

While Ashley showed almost zero ambition, certainly in the final decade of his ownership, Levy has helped transform Spurs from also-rans (Ashley’s first season as owner, 2007-08, saw them finish 11th, one place and three points above Newcastle) into a club who finished third in 2016 and 2018, as runners-up in between and reached the Champions League final two years ago, and who now play their home games in arguably the finest stadium in world football.

Building on how supporters feel towards Newcastle, it is interesting only 16.1% said jealousy was their overriding emotion regarding last week’s takeover at St James’ Park. Linked to the fact that most Spurs fans would rather have their current ownership structure than Newcastle’s, there’s a sense among some supporters that although being so cash-rich is enviable, constantly having to make moral judgments about your team is not actually that appealing a position to be in. Some fans are dismissive of the questions the Saudi takeover raises, but for others, it would put them in an extremely uncomfortable position.

So uncomfortable that 41% of the Spurs fans surveyed said they would stop going to matches or even following them at all if the club got taken over by an equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s PIF.

Many respondents made the point that they are already extremely disillusioned with how money-driven elite football is today and that this kind of sale would tip them over the edge. Some said they had already started boycotting or reducing the number of games they go to out of frustration with ENIC’s ownership, and the organisation’s perceived policy of profits over glory. Others said they wouldn’t stop going to games but would protest against the owners while at the stadium and/or stop buying anything else (merchandise et cetera) that gives additional money to the club.

Regarding the final question about whether a relative lack of spending was supporters’ main frustration with the current Spurs ownership, many made the point that it’s not about the amount the club have spent but how effectively, or otherwise, they do so. Tottenham’s net spend is actually higher than Chelsea’s since the summer of 2018, for instance (although the latter were under a FIFA transfer embargo for one summer window of that period), but too many of their signings over the last few years have failed to deliver.

This sentiment that it’s not just about the level of investment is another reason why some supporters wouldn’t sacrifice their principles for a sudden cash injection.

The fact Spurs came so close to winning the 2018-19 Champions League suggests there are other ways to have success than the Manchester City, Chelsea and now, presumably, Newcastle model. Though doing so is only going to get harder as more of Tottenham’s rivals can count on such huge financial advantages.

On Sunday, we’ll see the two teams with their contrasting business models go head to head but only over the next few years will we get a sense of how these decisions affect their respective results on the pitch — and what that means for the mood of the two clubs’ supporters.

English football should be different – it is in thrall to money, no matter where it comes from

By Oliver Jay, The Athletic

A video appeared on social media recently from Saint & Greavsie, the light-hearted Saturday lunchtime football show presented by Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves, two now late, great British footballers from a bygone era.

Continue reading “English football should be different – it is in thrall to money, no matter where it comes from”

The rise of Oliver Skipp: Studious, powerful and a dab hand on the oche

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

Cast your mind back a year or so to the north London derby during Project Restart. Toby Alderweireld has just scored what turns out to be a late winner and the Tottenham players are celebrating wildly.

Continue reading “The rise of Oliver Skipp: Studious, powerful and a dab hand on the oche”

‘There are no patterns of play’ – Inside Nuno’s turbulent start as Tottenham boss

By Jack Pitt-Brook, The Athletic

Nuno Espirito Santo arrived at Tottenham Hotspur and was thrust into some very difficult circumstances.

He was only appointed on June 30, days before the first Spurs players started to return for pre-season training. Fabio Paratici had only been working for the club for a few weeks and was trying to oversee both a clearout of deadwood as well as a rejuvenation of the squad, all while trying to hold on to Harry Kane.

So things were tough but there was also a hope that Nuno could improve the situation quite briskly. Some key areas were identified where Spurs had been badly lacking last season: the squad’s lack of fitness, its lack of discipline and the absence of a clear game plan.

Watching Tottenham’s last three league games — and especially the disastrous first half against Arsenal at the Emirates — it is very difficult to argue that Nuno has taken Tottenham forward on those matters. While Nuno’s position is not currently in danger, the team was a mess tactically, barely competing in the first half, and leaving him complaining that his players did not “play the game plan right”. Spurs’ stats for shots, chances and, most damningly, distance covered are the worst in the league.

It raised the question: how can things be this bad so soon into the Nuno era? Is he taking Tottenham in the wrong direction already? Or are these just teething problems that many managers face when they try to implement something new? And if he does not turn around performances and results pretty fast, how long will he survive?

Tottenham’s managing director of football Fabio Paratici joined the club on June 12, then appointed Nuno as head coach 18 days later (Photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

Nuno opened his press conference on Wednesday afternoon with an understatement, saying, “Obviously, the mood is not good” after Sunday’s shambles.

He admitted that the feeling from that game “doesn’t allow us to sleep” but promised a reaction in the Europa Conference League against NS Mura, and then in the Premier League against Aston Villa on Sunday. It barely needs to be said that those two games will be crucial in setting the tone going into the international break — and in shaping fans’ views as to whether Nuno should lead Spurs through this transitional season.

To some training ground observers, Nuno cuts a less dominant figure than his last two permanent predecessors. Mauricio Pochettino was a huge presence at the club who, over five and a half seasons, stamped his personality on the whole place, making time to speak to everyone and transforming the culture of the club. Jose Mourinho was different but he was still an outsized figure, in some ways bigger than the club itself and at least at the start, his personality rubbed off on people. Both Pochettino and Mourinho took an interest in the other sides of the club, such as commercial obligations, to ensure that the whole club could function smoothly.

Nuno is his own man but he is not the same dominant presence. While Nuno has the same “head coach” job title as Mourinho, the players see him as more of a coach than a manager, whose job does not extend much further than the training pitches.

Training ground sources say that he is so focused on football that he is less attentive to other sides of the club. While Nuno sets his training schedule weekly, at times, short-notice changes in session timing have made it harder to plan the other aspects of club life, such as commercial commitments, around them.

There are other aspects of Nuno’s own personal style that have not endeared him to his players. Nuno is an intelligent and thoughtful man, but he is not exactly loquacious, as he sometimes shows in his curt responses in press conferences.

But Nuno is not especially chatty with his players either, certainly compared to his more charismatic, outgoing predecessors. There is no small talk with players, and no real dialogue away from the training pitch. (Nuno insisted in his Wednesday press conference that he speaks to his players “every day, many, many times”.)

When Nuno arrived at Tottenham this summer, there was a hope that this could be an effective management tactic. Some managers might come into a new club throwing around promises about playing time or telling individuals how important they would be — but Nuno did no such thing, making no promises to anyone.

Even players whose futures were up in the air, who were expecting an introductory call from the new boss, heard nothing at all. (Joe Hart told the Daily Mail last month that he had only one conversation with Nuno, in which he was told he would never kick a ball for Spurs, before he was sold to Celtic.)

Nuno Espirito Santo, Tottenham

Nuno’s Spurs tenure began with three straight Premier League wins but those were followed by defeats to Crystal PalaceChelsea and Arsenal (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images)

The optimistic view at the club in the early weeks of the season was that by leaving players unsure of where they stood with him, Nuno would keep his squad on their toes, and would motivate them to prove their worth to him.

Maybe that will prove to be the case in time, if enough players markedly improve their performances, but right now, there is a feeling in the dressing room that Nuno is uncommunicative to the point of being distant, and that does not help him to get his point across.

When Nuno discussed the breakdown of his “game plan” in his post-match interview on Sunday, he appeared to blame a failure to transmit his instructions to the players, or at least a failure of his players to put them into practice. “I won’t name individuals who didn’t play the game plan right,” Nuno said, “but the game plan was not right according to the players who were on the pitch.”

There was some confusion afterwards from the players as to what exactly Nuno was asking from them. “Nobody is quite sure what is what,” one dressing room source says. “It’s unclear how we’re playing. There are no patterns of play.”

It remains to be seen whether the players will master Nuno’s ideas and whether they truly believe in what he is telling them, but Nuno was clear on Wednesday that he does retain the belief of his squad. “There’s no doubts about that because we work together every day and we prepare together,” he said. “The belief is the first step to do things, and we have it.”

Despite the events of the last few weeks, there is some sympathy for Nuno, especially among the squad’s senior players. There are still plenty of players at the club who remember the difficult first few weeks of the Pochettino era. Back at the start of the 2014-15 season, remember, Tottenham took eight points from their first six league games (one less than Nuno’s Spurs have right now) and only had 11 points after nine.

Pochettino spent the first few months of that season trying to instil his ideas and figure out which players were on board, and which were not. It was not until that famous 2-1 win at Villa Park on November 2 that the Pochettino era was fully launched. There is still some faint hope that Nuno’s Spurs could yet have their own “Aston Villa moment”.

In a revealing interview with the Evening Standard, captain Hugo Lloris said that it would be “impossible” for the manager to change things too quickly. “He’s bringing his ideas and, step by step, he’s building his relationship with the players. It can’t happen in just two or three months,” he said, before Sunday’s derby. “We need time.”

It is also worth remembering that Nuno’s attempts to get his squad fitter and closer to their levels under Pochettino have been undermined by circumstances out of his control. Kane returned to pre-season one week later than was first planned as he tried to engineer a move away from the club and he is still getting back up to speed. Tanguy Ndombele missed Spurs’ first six games as he tried to force his own transfer, and while he had three good games in a row, his fourth at Arsenal was a disaster.

Then there are the Dubrovnik Three: Davinson SanchezGiovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero, whose participation for their national teams in the last international break forced them into 10 days training in Croatia, missing two games and plenty of crucial training sessions. Throw in the more conventional injuries which have afflicted Eric Dier, Son Heung-min, Ryan SessegnonLucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn (the last two of whom were injured in a Europa Conference League game in Rennes), and you have a very unfortunate confluence of uncontrollables. Just because the squad is not as fit yet as he would like it to be, that does not mean it is Nuno’s own fault.

Tottenham have scored just four league goals so far this season (Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

There is a fear that the Spurs dressing room might decide Nuno’s future themselves, just as they did to varying degrees for Pochettino and Mourinho over the last two years. Only time will tell whether that turns out to be the case but there is also a view among senior players that maybe this time it would be better for the squad to take some responsibility themselves, and some share of the blame.

There is even a sense that being a Tottenham player is not a bad gig: they get paid fairly well but without the pressure of having to win. Maybe it is time for some more of them to deliver, rather than hiding behind the unpopularity of the manager, or even of Daniel Levy himself.

But at the same time, there is a knowledge born of experience, that when a Tottenham manager is struggling, he is the one who will ultimately pay for it with his job. Nuno is experienced enough to know this but he also knows that he is only six league games in, and has some very good players to help him turn it around.

“We don’t panic,” he said, “because we know, or at least I know, that this is football. Every team goes through a moment like this. To win we have to play better, we have to compete better, and sticking together is the only way through it.”

Tottenham’s capitulation was years in the making. And raises questions for Nuno and Levy

By Jack Pitt-Brook, The Athletic

Losing a derby is one thing, but losing one like this is something else.

This was a first-half performance so disastrously awful, so utterly abject in every possible way, that it has to prompt a list of questions about how things have come to this. How could it be so easy for Arsenal to cut through Tottenham at every opportunity? What were the Spurs players trying to do on the pitch? How much credibility and authority does Nuno Espirito Santo have as Tottenham head coach? And how deep are the problems that led Tottenham to this point?

It was only Son Heung-min’s goal that stopped this from being Spurs’ third straight 3-0 defeat in the Premier League. The loss to Chelsea last Sunday did at least see Spurs put in a creditable first-half performance, which felt like a platform to build from. This was the opposite. If the first half against Chelsea was enough to make you optimistic about Spurs’ direction under Nuno, the opening 45 minutes here were so bad that it can only prompt waves of pessimism.

One of the many reasons this was so exasperating was that Tottenham did come into this game with a sense that they finally had a plan for playing bold, attacking football. The first halves against Chelsea and Wolves last week did at least provide a blueprint: 4-3-3, pressing from the front, Tanguy Ndombele back in the team. It even felt as if the Nuno reign at Tottenham might turn out to be fun. That idea looks rather ridiculous now.

If the Chelsea first half was all about energy, teamwork, commitment and application of a plan, none of those qualities was on show here. Tottenham looked lost, like a group of players who had never shared a pitch together before. The midfield was non-existent and it was laughably easy for Martin Odegaard to pick up the ball between Spurs’ lines or for Arsenal’s entire attack to slice through Spurs on the break. Yes, Spurs stabilised in the second half, should have had a penalty and did eventually score a goal, but none of that should distract us from the real story here, which was Spurs’ appalling first-half no-show.

So whose fault was it? Nuno insisted in his post-match press conference that he took responsibility and that the problem stemmed from “decisions” that he made. He did not sound at all happy with his players and said in his Sky Sports interview that there were “individuals who did not play the game plan right”. No Spurs player played well and there were plenty of individual mistakes that contributed to Arsenal’s overwhelming dominance and superiority.

Spurs have looked very poor in recent games but the malaise goes back further (Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Each player is responsible for his own performance but when every player plays badly it has to be down to the coach. And as the execution of Nuno’s game plan went so drastically wrong, it makes you wonder how much the players really believed in the plan that Nuno sent them out with. Watching the Spurs players stumble their way through that catastrophic first half, they did not look like a team who had any faith or even comprehension of what the manager had asked them to do. This was only Nuno’s sixth league game in charge of Spurs but it felt more like the type of defeat that comes towards the end of a manager’s spell, rather than at the start. You would have to go back to some of the worst moments at the end of the Mauricio Pochettino or Jose Mourinho tenures — the 3-0 defeat at Brighton in October 2019 springs to mind — to come up with a performance as bad as this.

After a run like this — Crystal Palace, Chelsea and now Arsenal — it is only natural to ask what direction Tottenham are heading in. The argument for Nuno when Tottenham appointed him was that he could be a stabilising force, who would get Spurs fitter, more disciplined, better organised and, crucially, difficult to beat. But how fit have Tottenham looked in the last few weeks? How disciplined? How well organised? And — as Arsenal cut them to pieces this afternoon — how difficult to beat?

During those three league wins at the start of the season it was easy to forget — or at least to put to one side — the reality of how and why Nuno got this job. Nuno was appointed, remember, at the end of a 10-week search for Mourinho’s replacement. Nuno had initially been discarded as an option when he left Wolves because he did not fit with Daniel Levy’s vision for Spurs’ footballing “DNA”. Tottenham tried and failed to appoint Hansi Flick, Mauricio Pochettino and Antonio Conte and pulled out of moves for Paulo Fonseca and Gennaro Gattuso before finally giving Nuno the job just days before the players returned for pre-season. Being so far down the club’s list can only undermine a manager’s credibility, and today Nuno did look like an appointment of last resort.

Flick was in the stands here, alongside his assistant with the German national team, Danny Rohl. It was tempting to wonder whether Tottenham would be in better shape had they succeeded in tempting him to take over at Spurs when he left Bayern Munich. Spurs tried hard to get Flick (and Rohl) in late April and early May before he eventually decided to take the Germany job. Flick would at least have fulfilled Levy’s famous promise to the fans to bring back “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” football. Who knows how the results would have gone, but they would hardly have been worse than this one.

Nuno is not to blame for the circumstances in which he got the job, but he is likely to eventually become a victim of them. He only has a two-year deal at Tottenham and if there are many more games like this one it makes it less likely that he will even see in his second season here.

We will not know for a while whether this was a nadir in the Nuno era or just another step in the wrong direction. But we do know that this is a marker in Tottenham’s recent struggles. They have only registered one league win at the Emirates, and 3-2 that victory came 10 years ago. In Nuno’s defence, Tottenham’s decline started long before he got the job.

danny rose mourinho injury

Pochettino wanted to cash in on Rose but Levy did not (Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

If you are looking for root causes for an afternoon like this, you can go back much further than the 72 days between Mourinho’s dismissal and Nuno’s appointment. You could look at the decision to replace Pochettino with Mourinho almost two years ago, when Daniel Levy decided to get rid of Spurs’ best manager for a generation to replace him with someone whose best days were behind him. You could look at the misjudgements in the transfer market in recent years, the lack of creativity in midfield or quality in defence.

Or you could go further back to those peak Pochettino years when the manager knew that he needed a clear-out of players to refresh the team. Maybe if Danny RoseDele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen had been sold at the right time for the right money then Pochettino would have been able to rejuvenate the squad and go again. He might even still be there now.

The point is that Sunday afternoon’s mess was long in the making. Tottenham, in a sense, had been building up to something like this for a while. Nuno has walked into a difficult situation not of his own making here. He is certainly not the only problem here. Although that does not necessarily mean he is the solution either.

The Harry Kane conundrum: Should Tottenham’s No 10 become a No 9 again?

By Jack Pitt-Brook, The Athletic

It was a classic striker’s goal, and part of a classic striker’s performance — something that we had not seen from him for some time.

Harry Kane was lurking with intent just off Willy Boly, during the first half of Spurs’ Carabao Cup game at Wolves on Wednesday night. When Conor Coady charged forward to close down Giovani Lo Celso, a huge hole opened up in the middle of the home defence. The ball fell to Dele Alli, who saw Kane turning to run through that gap between Boly and Max Kilman, and threaded a perfect first-time pass through.

Watching Kane take a perfect first touch to knock the ball forward, a precise second to set up the shot, and then a ruthless third to beat John Ruddy was to experience a pang of deja vu for the type of goal he used to score, and the type of player he used to be.

It was like his goal at Borussia Dortmund in March 2019, which sent Spurs through to the Champions League quarter-finals; a moment Tottenham fans will still be nostalgic about long after Kane, Nuno Espirito Santo and the rest have left the stage.

But there was more than just that goal — Kane’s first in domestic football this season — to remind Spurs fans of the good old days. His whole performance at Molineux was that of an old-fashioned No 9, the type of player Kane was during the Mauricio Pochettino years.

When Pierluigi Gollini kicked the ball long, Kane would win the header, flicking the ball on for Lo Celso or Bryan Gil to run onto. He would hold the ball up and stretch the play. When Son Heung-min whipped in a cross from the left, Kane darted to get on the end of it, only to see Ruddy save his header. (Usually, the roles are reversed — Kane crossing from deep, Son trying to score.)

With Dele, Gil and Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele all in the team on Wednesday, he could stay high up the pitch rather than dropping into midfield and trying to do everything by himself.

Even before Kane scored his penalty in the shootout, this was his best all-round club performance this season.

Better than his two goals against Pacos de Ferreira in the Europa Conference League qualification play-off, because of the degree of difficulty. Better than his deployment in that inside-left role against Chelsea last week.

This was the first time that Kane has looked like his old self, physically dominating his opponents and influencing the game. He looked as if he was proving to the world that, after a pretty miserable few weeks, he is still a player to be reckoned with.

If Kane can play like that in the north London derby on Sunday, and for the rest of the season, then Tottenham’s prospects will look much healthier.

But as Nuno still wrestles with finding the best balance for his Spurs team, he still has to answer the question that the last three men in that job have all faced: how best to use Kane? Which itself means two different things: which position is best for Kane? And, which position is best for Tottenham?

Last season provided an object lesson of one way of doing this.

Say what you like about Jose Mourinho’s 17-month tenure, but one thing he unambiguously did was get the best out of Kane. While Pochettino insisted that Kane stay as a No 9 and lead the press, Mourinho was more relaxed and more flexible. And he was willing to build the team around his best player.

Mourinho’s success was to find a balance that made the most of Kane’s strengths, accommodated Kane’s weaknesses, while also appealing to Kane’s own sense of destiny.

Kane had wanted a bigger role in the Spurs team, especially since watching The Last Dance on Netflix. He was entranced by Michael Jordan’s completeness and he wanted something similar for himself. He envisaged being more involved in every aspect of Tottenham’s play, not just in the final third.

Kane set up nine of Son’s 17 Premier League goals in 2020-21, but Spurs finished only seventh (Photo: Getty Images)

The result was a reworked Spurs team in which Kane was free to drop as deep as he wanted to try to influence the game and create chances for others. And it worked: their signature move last season involved Kane coming back into the middle or moving out wide and playing a perfect pass through to finish.

Mourinho had found a system that made the most of Kane’s skills in that area, his awareness, his vision for a pass and his technical skill to execute it. It also came to terms with the fact that Kane in his late 20s does not quite have the athleticism he did when he first came into the side. But still, he finished last season with 23 Premier League goals and 14 assists, top of the Premier League for both stats. When it came to maximising Kane’s skills, you could even call it a Mourinho masterclass.

But just because something is good for Kane, it does not mean it is necessarily good for Tottenham. Football teams should be more than the sum of their parts, after all. And the fact that Spurs limped to seventh place last season (while sacking Mourinho with seven games to go) suggests that Kane’s success and the success of the team are not precisely the same thing.

Because there is also a theory at Tottenham that Kane’s use in deeper positions has in fact gone too far now.

Spurs’ best form in recent years, when Pochettino was in charge and they felt like the most exciting team in the country, came with Kane playing as a centre-forward. He would run in behind, he would physically dominate centre-backs and he would lead their press. This was why his performance on Wednesday was so well received.

Since Kane has started to play in deeper areas, Tottenham’s only two players who can run in behind are Son and Steven Bergwijn, and only the South Korean provides a credible goal threat. Kane dropping deep has clearly been good for his own numbers, but arguably it has blunted the team as a whole.

The argument runs that every side needs a focal point up front, a platform to build on, and that when Kane drops too far in pursuit of the ball, they lose that. They have no one who can hold it up in the opposition half, no one to run in behind, and that means they struggle to get up the pitch. So that, even if Kane gets more influential from deep, the team misses out.

Where does the balance lie for Nuno?

When Spurs lost 3-0 at home to Chelsea last weekend, Kane started in an inside-left position in a front three, a role that was meant to give him spaces to drop into. And he played some clever passes early on that did not quite come off, before fading in the second half, along with the rest of his team.

But it was the game on Wednesday that might well have provided the best solution.

Kane was back up front, and while his goal was important, getting the whole team up the pitch was even more so. When Nuno was asked on Friday afternoon whether he saw Kane as a nine or 10, he reiterated that the real answer was what mattered more to the unit, not to the player himself.

“I am more concerned, and what I look for more, is to try to create the best for the team,” he said. “What we want is to create a situation where our players work well in the positions where they feel more comfortable. What we are looking at is: how can we build and improve the team?”

Reasons to be cheerful?

theathletic.com/2836972/2021/09/20/the-numbers-that-suggest-spurs-have-been-even-worse-than-you-think/

Although the analysis, backed with stats, is that Spurs are seemingly in the würst of all ‘moments’, with low numbers of chances created and high numbers of chances conceded…on Sunday I saw *some* reasons for optimism.

I’m well aware that the final scoreline may have some of you snorting into your cornflakes, or brisket, or noodles (depending on your time zone) as you read that, but let me make the case.

As against City, we raised our game in the first 45 mins of the game against Chelsea BUT, and it’s a significant butt, we did it by playing high-energy, aggressive, attacking football.

The fact that Tuechel had to hook Mount for Kante at half time was more testament to the fact that Nuno had got it right, than that he had got it wrong, in my view.

Whether by necessity, and perhaps against his more conservative instincts, Nuno picked a very attacking side on Sunday. Gone were the 3 defensive midfielders and in came both Lo Celso and NDombele, with Dele working further forward, more often, to help to create team pressure on Chelsea’s back line and not allow Jorginho time to either disrupt or dictate.

The result was our best 45 mins this season, with the only thing lacking a real clear cut chance for Sonny or Prince Harry to covert (more on him later).

If any of you saw the recent article on Dele, or have listened to the excellent View from The Lane podcast, you will be aware that he has been given more of a destroyer role this season, running round the pitch disrupting the opposition, but with Moura and Bergwijn both out (and not creating/assisting or finishing enough chances between them anyway) could Nuno have stumbled upon a set up and starting line up that suits our best talents anyway? An in-form Dele’s numbers, in terms of assists and goals when deployed in the right position are the kind that we need to support Son and Kane’s.

I know, I know…there’s another Kardashian-sized but here. The second half collapse was woeful, for sure, and the arguments have been well made as to why (conceded poor first goal, didn’t react to Kante substitution, allowed heads to go down after second lucky deflected goal etc etc).

However, for the purposes of seeing how we might secure a Ropey League place in the PL, or go far in one of the Cups (even the Euro Conference?), I glimpsed a possibility where Nuno sees how we need to play, has the players to execute it and is willing to take the risks required, rather than sliding to mid-table mediocrity and early cup exits, followed by a premature termination of his contract.

If only he can get NDombele fit, Lo Celso up to his international best and Kane enjoying his football again…or has that ship sailed? The ‘consummate professional’ seems to be allowing his head to drop awfully quickly, so much so that I’d be tempted to drop him, if resources allowed. And if Citeh came in with £130m ish in January I’d get him gone – and get on with the painful rebuild in a meaningful way.

Anyway, COYS!

Playing on the front foot must be the way forward for this imbalanced, imperfect, Tottenham team

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

Off the back of an embarrassing afternoon for Tottenham, the risk is that the disappointment of being battered by Chelsea bleeds into next weekend’s north London derby.

Nuno Espirito Santo might feel chastened by naming a more attacking line-up and revert to something more conservative at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

That can’t happen.

Spurs were ultimately well beaten by the European champions but there was enough in the first half to suggest that playing on the front foot with a greater number of attacking players is the way forward for this imbalanced, imperfect Spurs team. Yes, this was a 3-0 defeat in a London derby for the second successive weekend but — for the opening 45 minutes anyway — this was a long way from the dismal defeat at Selhurst Park that was especially galling because of Nuno’s defensive selections.

On that occasion, Nuno went with a stodgy midfield three of Harry WinksOliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. On Sunday, the former two were replaced with Tanguy Ndombele and Dele Alli, who dropped back from one of the forward positions. Giovani Lo Celso took his place as part of the front three, alongside Harry Kane and the returning Son Heung-min.

Spurs were dangerous in that first half, with Son and Sergio Reguilon both being put through on goal but unable to finish. There was a zip about Tottenham, with Hojbjerg snapping into challenges, Ndombele embarking on a few eye-catching dribbles, and Son’s pace forcing the Chelsea defenders to retreat and hand Spurs the initiative.

Tottenham created the half’s better chances in what was, admittedly not in a crowded field, arguably their best 45 minutes in the Premier League this season. The positivity among the supporters at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was palpable.

It all fell apart after the break, but Spurs will face few teams as good as Chelsea, and even fewer who can bring on a game-changer of the quality of N’Golo Kante at half-time. Certainly not Arsenal next week, in a game that already feels crucial for Nuno — even at this embryonic stage of his time at Tottenham.

A two-goal win for Arsenal would see them move ahead of Spurs in the table and represent a remarkable nine-point swing in the space of three matches. Nuno knows how deflating that would be, and should look to how Spurs’ ultra-conservative approach in the equivalent fixture last season contributed to them losing a game to a team low on confidence who looked there for the taking.

Lloris, Spurs

Spurs played well in the first 45 minutes against Chelsea before it fell apart (Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Thankfully, Nuno appeared to recognise after the game that, despite the chastening defeat by Chelsea, there were at least some positives from the first half.

“Very good first half, very good,” he said. “We competed well, we played good football, we pressed high so we have the awareness that we have a lot of things we need to improve, but the awareness of the first half must stick with us so we can build on it.”

Returning to the theme, Nuno added: “I honestly believe the first half was good, really good. The energy that we put on the pitch — the attitude, the spirit the players had. So if there’s only one positive today, that was the first half.”

Whether the first half was “really good” is open to interpretation, and some would dispute it. The point, though, is not necessarily how good it was, but rather how much better it was than what we saw at Palace, and also in spells of the Wolves and Watford wins.

On those occasions, the Spurs midfield looked designed to frustrate the opposition rather than offer much from a creative perspective. On Sunday, Spurs at least looked like they wanted to hurt Chelsea and, via clever through balls from Son and Lo Celso for those Reguilon and Son chances, were able to cut their opponents open. That was no mean feat against a ferociously well-organised team who excel in the work they do off the ball under Thomas Tuchel.

Nuno suggested that the more conservative approach of the early weeks of the season was a consequence of some of his more creative players not being available. “We started one way because those were the players available to build on,” he said — a reference to Lo Celso’s lack of fitness after the Copa America and Ndombele being sidelined as he tried to find a way out of the club.

Both players are available now and, despite many supporters’ reservations about one or both of them, they undoubtedly provide Spurs with more creativity. And this is something Spurs, who have not scored a goal from open play in the Premier League since their opening fixture, are desperately lacking.

The solution is not to retreat into their shells but to try and make good on the sense that there were at least some foundations laid on Sunday. That when Ndombele is fully up to speed, that when Lo Celso has shaken off any after-effects of his training camp in Croatia, and when Son is completely over his calf injury, that Spurs will belatedly discover some cutting edge.

Is this clutching at straws? Quite possibly. But it’s the most convincing option Spurs have right now — and offers them the best chance of getting back on track in the north London derby.

Tottenham v Chelsea

Tottenham Hotspur may be missing a raft of players, with Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn sustaining injuries in the Europa Conference League on Thursday.

Japhet Tanganga is suspended, Giovani lo Celso, Cristian Romero and Davinson Sanchez remain in quarantine and Son Heung-min and Eric Dier are doubts.

Chelsea have no new injury concerns but may rotate their squad after winning in the Champions League on Tuesday.

N’Golo Kante is available following injury but Christian Pulisic is out.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Tottenham have conceded a club record 103 Premier League goals against Chelsea.
  • They have won only seven of the 58 Premier League meetings (D20, L31).
  • Chelsea can win three successive Premier League matches versus Spurs for the first time since 2005.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Tottenham are vying to open their campaign with three wins at home for the first time since 2002.
  • They could equal the club record of 12 points after five Premier League fixtures.
  • Spurs can keep a clean sheet in each of their opening three home matches of a league campaign for the first time.
  • They have won eight of their past 10 league games at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, keeping six clean sheets.
  • However, Tottenham could lose three London derbies in a row for the first time in 16 years.
  • Spurs recorded just two shots in their most recent defeat at Crystal Palace, their lowest Premier League total since 2005. They failed to score for the first time in 19 league matches.
  • Against Palace, Harry Kane failed to have a shot or touch in the opposition penalty area for the first time in a 90-minute Premier League appearance.
  • Kane has had only two shot attempts in his 200 minutes of Premier League playing time this season.
  • Nuno Espirito Santo’s teams have failed to score in the first half in 83 of his 118 Premier League games in charge.

Chelsea

  • Chelsea have only conceded one goal in the Premier League so far this season, their lowest total at this stage for 11 years.
  • They could win six successive London derbies away from home for the first time in their history. It has only been done by one other top-flight club: Arsenal, between 1988-1989 and again in 2013-2014.
  • The Blues’ defeat at Aston Villa in May is their only loss in 11 Premier League away matches under Thomas Tuchel.
  • Tuchel’s 61% clean sheet ratio in the Premier League is the best of any manager to have taken charge of at least 10 fixtures.
  • Romelu Lukaku has scored only one goal in 13 appearances against Spurs in all competitions.

BBC Sport

In his new role, Dele isn’t creating or getting chances – that is what Spurs need from him right now

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

As Spurs wade through the rubble of Saturday’s calamitous defeat at Crystal Palace, the team’s well-documented lack of creativity from midfield will be one of the dominant themes. Among the other issues that arose at Selhurst Park, the chronic lack of goal threat from this area of the pitch is, as head coach Nuno Espirito Santo called it straight after the game, “A big concern”.

Continue reading “In his new role, Dele isn’t creating or getting chances – that is what Spurs need from him right now”

Why Tanguy Ndombele and Bryan Gil’s absence was even more awkward after Paratici’s Levy chat

By Alastair Gold, Football.London

The Frenchman’s absence from the miserable 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace was tough to explain away for the Tottenham head coach.
It was a performance to sum up a week of utter farce with Tottenham Hotspur at its centre.

It took just 12 minutes for the decisions of summer signing Cristian Romero and Davinson Sanchez to head off for their international call-ups, along with Giovani Lo Celso, to play in red listed South American countries to come back to haunt Tottenham.

Just to rub it in further, all those South American countries who had asked FIFA to ban the others players who did not accept call-ups dropped their grievances, meaning other clubs were not affected.

Even Eric Dier’s injury was avoidable, Hugo Lloris rolling the ball too far past the Spurs defender so he had to stretch and collide with a Palace attacker.

He attempted to play on but could barely move, a physio eventually having to guide him slowly and painfully down the touchline and back to the changing room.

Then came the sending off of Japhet Tanganga, who had been excellent in central defence until he got himself too pumped up after a scuffle with Wilfried Zaha and launched into another unnecessary challenge soon after that yellow card.
The footballing gods also decided to ensure the joke continued as another Spurs centre-back Cameron Carter-Vickers scored on his debut on loan at Celtic.

Even with all of that, including the fact that Tottenham were shorn of six players who all probably would have either started or been on the bench, there was no excuse for the lack of creativity on display.

It started with Nuno Espirito Santo’s line-up, with the Portuguese feeling the need to play all three of his more defensively-minded midfielders in Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Oliver Skipp and Harry Winks.

The idea looked to be to provide the full-backs with the ability to charge on in a 4-3-2-1 formation and hurt Palace down the flanks, pinning Zaha back in his own half.

Instead it resulted in a performance that will have had Tottenham fans worrying whether their fears were being realised of simply seeing just another version of Jose Mourinho, one without the silverware on his CV.

Tottenham’s managing director of football Fabio Paratici had needed to convince chairman Daniel Levy that that wasn’t the case when he pushed the Portuguese’s claims for the job in the summer.

The Italian showed the Spurs supremo clips of Espirito Santo’s Valencia side in his first season in Spain to emphasise that the football that could be played under the Portuguese could realise the promise the chairman made to the fans of attacking, entertaining football.

Those watching the game at Palace on Sunday might have been forgiven for wondering if those video clips were of someone else’s team.
Spurs were abysmal in everything they did going forward. There was no creativity, no drive and no movement among the attacking players.

Whenever a Tottenham player had the ball, they looked up to find nobody ahead of them to pass to. Emerson Royal, on his debut, waved his arms on a couple of occasions when in possession, beckoning someone to show for the ball. This was a long way from Barcelona.

Opta’s stats declared that with Spurs only managing two shots at goal in the entire match, it was their lowest shots in total in a Premier League game since a match in August 2005 against Blackburn Rovers.

Harry Kane, one of the world’s best strikers and creators, may well as have been replaced by a cardboard cut-out on Saturday afternoon, such was his lack of impact on the encounter.

A near complete absence of service was mostly to blame but we’ve also seen Kane grabbing games by the scruff of the neck before and firing Spurs to points they perhaps did not deserve.

Yet at Selhurst Park it was the first time ever Kane has not touched the ball in the opposition box or had a shot in a game he’s played 90 minutes in. That said it all.

When asked by football.london whether he was concerned about the lack of creativity on the day, Espirito Santo replied: “It is a big concern, we had enough quality and talent to play better.

“We didn’t do it, credit to Palace they were aggressive and they didn’t allow too much time on the ball. We lost duels, many, many situations that I think we should do much better. In terms of offensive, much improvement is required.”
The Portuguese pushed aside a question about not using Tanguy Ndombele or Bryan Gil with little thought.

There perhaps was a touch of frustration at something that clearly had caught everyone’s eye when the team was announced and had proven to be right by the course of the game.

Managers understandably hate it when their tactical decisions are picked apart by hindsight, but this one seemed glaring without it.

For the absence of either Ndombele or Gil from the pitch at any point, let alone in the starting line-up, remains as mystery.

Espirito Santo was clearly not impressed with Ndombele during the summer, with the Frenchman wanting to leave the club and not being in his view the required mental state to be included in matchday squads, in pre-season as well.

Yet with weeks’ worth of training at Hotspur Way, plus almost a fortnight after the transfer window closed and the two men are believed to have held positive talks about this coming season, it’s difficult to imagine Ndombele wasn’t fit enough to start the game.

Espirito Santo may well have felt that Winks, who showed a desire to stay at Tottenham in the summer despite interest in taking him away, deserved to be rewarded with the start.

The problem is that Winks can’t do what Ndombele can and particularly in a team that already had Hojbjerg and Skipp, the Frenchman was needed as a matter of urgency.

His ability to keep the ball, dribble past his man, creating space for others and the creativity to thread a pass through to the attackers was something Tottenham desperately needed on the day.

Dele Alli worked hard in his own half but was disappointing in the other. His attacking game has always been about the finishing rather than the creating. Lucas showed plenty of willing and some of his running in the first half was electric, but it came with no end product.

Instead of playing, Ndombele was left to watch on from the sidelines.

Before kick-off, after walking along in deep conversation with the laughing Pierluigi Gollini, he had purposefully sought out his compatriot Patrick Vieira, the Palace boss, to speak to him in the dugout.

Tottenham fans will see the former midfielder as an Arsenal man, but for Ndombele he would have been a World Cup-winning midfield inspiration for him as a youngster.

It’s difficult to see how Ndombele would not have inspired Tottenham to be better than they were.

Gil almost got on the pitch – twice – before Tanganga’s red card and before Palace’s second goal. Both times Espirito Santo changed his mind.

“He didn’t come on because I didn’t decide to put him on first,” said the Spurs boss. “Like you say, I think you saw, our idea previously was just the right moment, then the precise moment we’re to make the sub we’re made one man less and we had to find the balance of the team again, to go for a defender, so the decision was made based on that.”

Unfortunately for Espirito Santo, that defender was Ben Davies and the Welshman gave away the penalty that opened the scoring for the hosts.

Gil is one of Spain’s highest-rated young attacking players and during his loan spell at Eibar, he proved that even at one of La Liga’s strugglers he could create more chances than most, which makes it all the more bewildering he never made it on to the pitch after the obvious defender change.

Espirito Santo will be questioning his players tonight but he hopefully will also question whether his own line-up did Tottenham any favours.

It’s very early in the tenure of a man who has just won the Premier League’s manager of the month award, which shows just how quickly football comes at you.

Espirito Santo needs to make sure that this performance was a blip. He’s previously bemoaned the need for more attacking improvement, even in the victories, which suggests he does want attractive football even if this line-up suggested otherwise.
Ndombele and Gil will both get their chance in midweek against Rennes and they need to convince the Spurs boss that he can trust them.

Some fans are ready to label Espirito Santo as Mourinho 2.0 and with derbies against Chelsea and Arsenal up next in the Premier League, sandwiching a Carabao Cup match against his old team Wolves, the solid start to the season could swiftly be undone.

Espirito Santo said he wants to make the Tottenham fans proud. To do so he needs much more than he and his players provided at Selhurst Park.

Crystal Palace v Tottenham

TEAM NEWS

Crystal Palace’s summer signings Odsonne Edouard and Michael Olise are in line to make their debuts.

Captain Luka Milivojevic could make his first appearance of the season, but Jeffrey Schlupp has a tight hamstring and won’t be risked.

Tottenham are without Giovani Lo Celso, Cristian Romero and Davinson Sanchez as they need to follow Covid-19 protocols having played for their countries.

Son Heung-min is a doubt after injuring his calf on international duty.

Oliver Skipp, Steven Bergwijn and Ryan Sessegnon also suffered injuries during the international break and will be assessed.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Crystal Palace are without a victory in 12 Premier League meetings since a 2-1 win in January 2015.
  • Palace have won only one of their 16 league matches versus Spurs since returning to the Premier League in 2013.
  • Tottenham could earn a 13th top-flight away victory at Palace, the most by any club.

Crystal Palace

  • Crystal Palace are the first side to start a top-flight campaign with four consecutive London derbies. They are without a win in their last 11 such games in the Premier League.
  • Palace have had the fewest shots (20) and shots on target (five) of any team in the top flight this season.
  • Wilfried Zaha has failed to register a goal or an assist in 12 Premier League games against Tottenham.
  • Jordan Ayew celebrates his 30th birthday on the day of this match. He has gone 30 Premier League appearances without a goal.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Tottenham have started a league campaign with three wins and three clean sheets for the first time in their history. The only teams to have begun a top-flight campaign with four wins and no goals against are Aston Villa in 1900-01, Ipswich Town in 1974-75, Chelsea in 2005-06 and Manchester City in 2015-16.
  • On the two previous occasions in which Spurs started a season with three clean sheets (1924-25 and 2005-06), they lost 2-0 in their fourth game.
  • They are aiming to win their opening four top-flight matches to a season for only the fourth time. They last did so in 2009-10.
  • Nuno Espirito Santo is looking to become only the second manager to oversee a clean sheet in his opening four Premier League matches in charge of a club, emulating Joe Royle at Everton in 1994.
  • Tottenham have scored in 18 successive league fixtures, the longest current streak in the top flight.

Football’s next big fight: A World Cup every two years

By Matt Slater, The Athletic

You can pack a lot into two years. It’s how long Boris Johnson has been prime minister, it’s the time explorers Lewis and Clark spent finding out what was west of the Mississippi and it’s the average life span of the North American opossum.

Continue reading “Football’s next big fight: A World Cup every two years”

Fans don’t want legacy clubs dominating or state-funded clubs, so can football ever be happy?

By Matt Slater, The Athletic

OK, so let me get this straight.

We don’t want blue-blood clubs, like Liverpool and Manchester United, dominating for decades at a time and we are deeply suspicious of how enthusiastically these aristocrats embraced financial fair play (aka, Operation Drawbridge). When it comes to winners, we want to spread it around a bit — we like disruption.

Continue reading “Fans don’t want legacy clubs dominating or state-funded clubs, so can football ever be happy?”

Emerson Royal – what Tottenham should expect out of right-back signed from Barcelona

By Charlie Eccleshare and Mark Carey

After Serge Aurier’s positive attacking play but shaky defending, and Japhet Tanganga’s solid but conservative performances at the start of this season, have Tottenham Hotspur now found the happy medium at right-back?

Continue reading “Emerson Royal – what Tottenham should expect out of right-back signed from Barcelona”

What makes Daniel. Levy tick?

By Jack Pitt-Brook and Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

When the Football Association opened St George’s Park in October 2012, the £100 million training facility was meant to be the pride of the English game. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge presided over the ceremony, Roy Hodgson’s England team trained there, and plenty of football dignitaries attended. One of them was Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, who a few weeks earlier had opened Spurs’ new training ground in Enfield.

Continue reading “What makes Daniel. Levy tick?”

Kane staying at Spurs a victory for the club yet his legacy will be different now

By Seb Stafford-Bloor, The Athletic

It’s a peculiar reflection on such a pervasive saga, but there was never much doubt about that. Manchester City never got close to meeting Daniel Levy’s valuation. That said, we never really found out what Levy’s valuation actually was, or even if he actually had one.

So, nothing has happened and yet it feels as if everything has, and it’s difficult to know what an appropriate response truly is.

For many, it will be relief, because Tottenham’s fanbase has surely grown weary of updates on a situation that had been locked at stalemate for some time. Even before Kane trotted around a golf course with Gary Neville, the issue of his future had been a staple of Spurs life and was almost as much a part of match day as the line-up or final score.

How often did the commentary during their games meander into a discussion about Kane’s future? How often did pundits straighten their skinny ties at full time, shift in their seats and muse openly about why he had – just had – to leave?

It’s been incredibly annoying for a really, really long time. It’s also one of the facts of modern football that very wealthy clubs tend to get exactly what they want, whenever they want it. Fair enough, then, that plenty of fans are now revelling in this temporary break to that trend, and that this should seem like some sort of victory to them.

Especially in this instance, because in the last few weeks the tone turned weird, becoming infused by the implication that Tottenham were obliged to sell, or – at its strangest — that Levy should be somehow helping City to break the British transfer record.

Spurs have been presented as the killjoy in this, haven’t they? At times, in certain places and specifically in relation to Levy, the caricaturing has been decidedly worse, but – more broadly – he and his club have been quietly damned for not allowing this Very Big Transfer to happen.

That’s been irritating, too. It’s not a new problem and it certainly didn’t start with Kane or even anyone from his generation, but unless you’re a supporter of a certain type of club, you’re not really allowed to have nice things and you’re made to feel unreasonable for wanting to keep what you have. So, yes, of course Tottenham supporters are happy. This is a win and a rare one, and that outcome is almost enough to distract from the active and often very clumsy part that Kane himself played in this episode.

On reflection, the mistake he made was underestimating the supporters’ understanding. Footballers and their representatives are often guilty of this; they’re far too afraid of being honest. At the end of last season, had he recorded an interview in which he said he was approaching his thirties, had suffered plenty of injuries, and that he was dispirited by the mood that had descended around Spurs, then plenty of supporters would have understood. Still resented it, most likely, but while deep down knowing the club was asking more of him than what was reasonable.

But everything has to have that subterfuge. Football’s lingua franca has become this tedious little code, which prevents anyone from ever saying exactly what they mean. No, Kane’s desire to leave could never have been popular, but there were more honourable ways to behave.

Better yet, his exit might have been softened by the perception that he was holding his club to account. In the right way, in a manner that most fans can only dream of.

Deep down, we’d all prefer to matter a little more to our club – for our anger to actually count for something, or for our refusal to buy a ticket to be noticed by someone other than the person who snaps up our vacated seat.

harry-kane

Kane came off the bench for Tottenham against Wolves on Sunday (Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Kane could have done that. Instead, his communication came in whispers and briefs, through conversations at weddings or through statements nobody believed.

It was easy to be annoyed by that. It’s more tempting, though, to be affronted by how basic the PR tactics often were. That’s where the real offence lay — not in the wanting to leave, but in this situation’s lack of finesse. It lasted to the end too, with that tweet announcing he was staying and claiming ownership of a situation that played out way above his head.

But while PR will never win hearts and minds, goals often do.

Kane won’t be part of the Europa Conference League group stage qualification play-off decider at home to Pacos de Ferreira tomorrow (Thursday), but he will almost certainly start when Watford visit on Sunday.

What’s the correct way to behave?

When Steven Gerrard flirted with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea all those years ago, Liverpool fans responded over the years by pretending it had never happened.

They sang the same songs and flew the same flags and, in time, Gerrard almost managed to use that Chelsea dalliance to garnish his legend: “You know, feeling like I belong to this city. I always want to be able to go back to Liverpool and take my little kids to the matches and take my family to the matches. I didn’t want to cause upset to them in any way.”

That kind of saccharine reflection wouldn’t play quite so well in north London, but Kane hasn’t come anywhere close to making this right. There’s been no apology, no regret, no self-reflection. But does that even matter?

Maybe the more pertinent question is whether fans can really be expected to hold players accountable. Kane’s legacy at Spurs will be different now. Quietly, in subtle ways, but different nonetheless. But can the fans really be expected to allow that to colour the way they respond to him, or to the goals he’ll obviously score for the club in the coming weeks and months?

When this news broke on Wednesday afternoon, quite a few joked on social media that it would take little more than a goal for them to forgive Kane and cheerfully recognised how fickle that made them out to be. But what’s the alternative — pious silence? He’s a wonderful player and he makes this team immeasurably better in almost every way; it’s a terrible thing to ask a fan to choose between their club’s values and its success. It’s worse still when the player forcing that choice is one of their own.

And that’s really the great tragedy of this situation – the biggest cost is the quandary it creates.

Harry Kane should be made to earn back what he was so willing to throw away. But he won’t be.

Because he can’t.

Because I refuse to hold him to account and so do you.

Because we know that we need him and, ultimately, because it’s brilliant that he hasn’t been allowed to leave us behind.

Nuno’s Spurs look functional but it’s hard to see them flourishing without the clinical and creative Harry Kane

By Nick Miller, The Athletic

The inevitable came just before the 70th minute.

Harry Kane had spent the first two-thirds of the second game of the season where he didn’t plan to be: on the bench, but more specifically on the Tottenham Hotspur bench, potentially mulling over how different things might have been and where he might have been playing.

Continue reading “Nuno’s Spurs look functional but it’s hard to see them flourishing without the clinical and creative Harry Kane”

Pacos de Ferreira v Tottenham

Harry Kane will not play for Tottenham in Thursday’s Europa Conference League play-off first leg against Pacos de Ferreira.

The England striker, who reportedly wants to leave the club, was not part of the group who flew to Portugal on Wednesday for the game.

Kane, 28, also missed Sunday’s 1-0 win over Manchester City, the team who are trying to buy him.

He returned to training late after a post-Euro 2020 holiday in the USA.

“He is getting his fitness better each day,” said boss Nuno Espirito Santo. “He is going to work today, he is going to work tomorrow, he’ll join the group on Friday and Saturday we will make a decision [on whether he could face Wolves on Sunday].”

Nuno has confirmed none of the starting XI who beat Manchester City will face Pacos de Ferreira, who finished fifth in the Portuguese league last season.

“It’s important that all of them have real competition,” he said. “The players that started the game on Sunday are not going to be involved.”

The winner of this two-legged tie will go into the group stage of the inaugural third-tier European competition.

BBC Sport

After Mourinho, the Super League, a managerial circus and the Harry Kane sideshow, at last Spurs have hope again.

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

This wasn’t just about the three points. It wasn’t just about beating the champions. It wasn’t just about showing Harry Kane what he might be missing.

The roar of celebration that greeted the final whistle of Tottenham’s 1-0 win over Manchester City on Sunday felt like the release of two years of pent-up frustration.

Two years that have taken in the Mauricio Pochettino sacking, the draining Jose Mourinho era, the pandemic that started with Spurs furloughing their staff (a decision so widely condemned it had to quickly be reversed), joining the European Super League (another decision so widely condemned it had to quickly be reversed), the Carabao Cup final defeat when Spurs barely laid a glove on Sunday’s opponents, a humiliating 72-day search for a head coach and the seemingly endless speculation about Kane’s future that dominated the build-up to Sunday’s game and will continue afresh this week.

The simple fact that 62,000 fans were in the stadium felt miraculous enough. The noise at the start of the game was visceral, a reminder of how much this has been missed by so many people.

And to get a sense of how omnipresent the feeling of crisis has been at Spurs in recent times, cast your minds back to the last time Spurs played in front of a full crowd at home.

Yep, that was the night when things were so toxic that Eric Dier marched up into the stands to confront a fan that was abusing him and his brother. An evening when Spurs, with no recognised striker in the absence of the injured Kane and Son Heung-min, were knocked out of the FA Cup by the Premier League’s bottom club Norwich City.

Or cast your minds back to the last time Spurs played a competitive game at this stadium. That was the night when Spurs were beaten 2-1 at home by Aston Villa — a game that began with protests outside the stadium and ended with fans venting their frustration from the stands at the team and chairman Daniel Levy. All played out under the shadow of stories emerging that Kane wanted to leave the club.

Let’s be honest, it’s been shit.

But all that only made Sunday feel even more glorious. It was one of those performances where you spend the whole way home reliving your favourite moments and poring over the elements you most enjoyed.

Which was yours? Japhet Tanganga’s outstanding performance at right-back, where he buffeted both Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling out of the game? “He’s one of our own…” sang the Spurs fans, on a day when in the absence of Kane it had extra resonance. “Japhet was huge today,” head coach Nuno Espirito Santo said afterwards. “He faced too many one-v-ones against fantastic players and he dealt fantastic with the situation.”

Or how about Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez both performing with such calmness and class after suffering badly last season? Sanchez is said to have returned from helping Colombia reach the Copa America semi-final with a new-found confidence and authority, and it showed.

Maybe it was Oliver Skipp, another academy graduate like Tanganga slotting into the midfield alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and getting the better of Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho as if it was the most natural thing in the world? In the lead-up to the game Skipp, still only 20, is said to have been completely unfazed by what appeared to be a hugely daunting assignment. Again, it showed.

Or perhaps what most caught your eye was Spurs’ front four of Dele Alli, Steven Bergwijn, Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min playing with such synergy and purpose. Spurs’ laid traps for City all afternoon and then sprung forward on the counter at pace, with the latter three all ripping into the City defenders and Dele picking up the pieces behind them. All four of them had enjoyed promising pre-seasons and this was even better. Moura in particular looked like a man reborn — another form of redemption for fans who all too often have howled in frustration at his failure to get his head up or make the final pass.

But this wasn’t just about individuals, it was a huge team effort — a contrast from the second half of last season when Spurs often looked like a bunch of ringers chucked together for a game of Sunday league. “What a change in teamwork,” as one dressing-room source put it afterwards.

And it rang true. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Spurs did put in performances like this sometimes under Jose Mourinho — November’s 2-0 win over Manchester City, for instance, was a brilliantly controlled display that sent the team top of the Premier League table.

But doing so in front of a buzzing full house and for a manager who the fans seem to have taken an instant shine to felt extra special. Nuno was given a huge cheer before the game, and serenaded by chants of “Nunoooooo”. After the final whistle he high-fived supporters as he walked down the tunnel.

Not since the dreamy post-Ajax euphoria of the home game against Everton in May 2019 that felt more like a festival than a football match has there been an occasion like this for Spurs fans. No angst, no tension, no anger.

Just that warm glow that comes from a big win, and the sense that there might be more to come.

Who knows if there will be? This might all be a false dawn. By next week we might be mourning the sale of Kane and cursing dropped points at Wolves. Lucas might be running down blind allies; the angst and anger will be back.

But none of that mattered on Sunday. Even Kane was forgotten about for a period, even the pandemic and the days, weeks and months spent away from this stadium and seeing the same familiar faces was forgotten about.

In so many ways, this was a redemptive afternoon.